Thursday, March 30, 2017

Trump Shows Why His Influence Will Not Push the BAT Through the House or the Senate

Bargaining, among other things, requires some form of trust.  Whether it's an uneasy trust (Reagan's "Trust but Verify") or a trust based solely on negative incentives, fundamentally bargaining requires confidence.  What happens to you if you choose to cooperate - are you subject to betrayal?

Paul Ryan, what do you say?

Trump has proven again and again that he is impatient, impetuous, temperamental and vindictive. While that may be what the voters knew they were getting, "drain the swamp" or whatever, it is not the makings of a great bargaining position with Members of Congress incentivized to do their own thing.

Trump doesn't start from a position of strength.  He is in the midst of a historic popularity plunge and has no credible plan to reverse it.  He was elected by a newly-formed conservative alliance, a group with no record of exercise of political power, but can't gain the support of Congressional conservatives. In desperation, he is now attempting to cultivate Democrats. Without the coercive force of a reliable coalition, Trump is naked and alone.  And finally, Trump continues to make outlandish claims that strain credibility or resorts to outright lies, all with apparent impunity. How long will the free pass last?

Under these circumstances, who would trust Trump with his/her vote in exchange for a promise?

If you continue to believe in the myth of Trump's political power, consider today's "threat" made against the Freedom Caucus.  He tweeted out a promise to campaign against them today:

Over a period of only a few days, Trump swung from one extreme to another with the Freedom Caucus. Before the healthcare vote, he threatened: "President Donald Trump was 'having fun' when he told the leader of the House Freedom Caucus that he would come after him for not supporting the Obamacare replacement plan, White House press secretary Sean Spicer said Tuesday. 'Mark Meadows is a longtime, early supporter of the president,' Spicer told reporters at Tuesday’s briefing. 'He had some fun at his expense this morning during the conference meeting.' . . .  'But he has made it very clear that he was having fun with him,' Spicer claimed. 'The president’s committed to making sure that this gets passed.'

Earlier in March he coo'ed:  "When we spoke on the morning of March 7, Trump assured me that he would not bully the Obamacare-replacement bill’s loudest Republican critics, like the Freedom Caucus chairman, Representative Mark Meadows, on Twitter: 'No, I don’t think I’ll have to,' he said. 'Mark Meadows is a great guy and a friend of mine. I don’t think he’d ever disappoint me, or the party. I think he’s great. No, I would never call him out on Twitter. Some of the others, too. I don’t think we’ll need to. Now, they’re fighting for their turf, but I don’t think they’re going to be obstructionists. I spoke to Mark. He’s got some ideas. I think they’re very positive.'"

So what is it - friend or foe?  Maybe that's not even the right question. A better and more interesting question is whether Trump is a worthy trading partner.  Presumably, his erratic and passive-aggressive behavior has triggers that go beyond an individual transaction.  In other words, pleasing him now is no guarantee that you will enjoy his loyalty or support at any given point in the future.  If so, why trade with him? Why take his threats particularly seriously?  You were probably subject to the same threat already.  Given his impetuous and judgmental behavior, you have no way to insulate against his threats. Why bother trying?

Under these circumstances, his threats seem hollow, and his influence waning.  This is apparent to more people that just 535 Members of Congress. Notably, the electorate is watching and paying closer attention than in recent memory.

Trump will not be able to bring back the "opt-outs" on the Ryan/Brady tax reform plan.  They need a Plan B before their record of failure makes any further progress impossible and careers become endangered.

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