I’m Still Bearish on an Infrastructure Plan

Almost immediately after the election in November, I began going against the grain to predict that Trump would not follow through on his promise of a $1 trillion infrastructure plan. But something Johnathan Cohn wrote recently reminded me that in making that case, I had failed to articulate very clearly an assumption I was making about why it would never get off the ground.

Trump has no apparent patience for the boring, slow work of politics ― like developing detailed policy plans, or working them out with congressional leaders. And without that kind of unglamorous work, getting stuff done turns out to be awfully difficult.

It all comes back to something that has been clear for a long time now. Trump wanted to win the presidency, not BE president. That is why, almost four months after the election, he still spends an inordinate amount of time bragging and lying about his great victory. It was the winning (and defeating his opponents) that mattered.

We have also known for a long time now that Trump has no self control and a very short attention span. The grueling work of putting together actual policies and working them through Congress is not something he is ever going to do. That would be one thing if he was a good delegator. He could simply provide his thoughts and hand the implementation off to others – something that many of his predecessors did. But as Cohn points out – the whole idea of paying attention to actual policies is anathema to this president.

During the presidential campaign, Trump mocked Hillary Clinton for her wonkishness: “She’s got people that sit in cubicles writing policy all day,” he said during one interview. “It’s just a waste of paper.” At one point, Trump’s own policy advisers quit because nobody was paying them or taking them seriously.

In retrospect, those weren’t aberrations. They were the signatures of a campaign that put a high premium on showmanship, with little regard for substance.

To the extent that any of Trump’s agenda requires legislation, it will be up to Mike Pence and Reince Priebus to take the initiative. That is why we’re still hearing a lot about plans to repeal Obamacare and provide tax cuts for the wealthy. Those are issues these two establishment Republicans – as well as GOP leaders in Congress – are keen to get done.

When it comes to an infrastructure plan, who is going to take the lead? The president is too busy making sure he receives an adequate amount of adulation for his tremendous victory in the election. It’s clear that leadership on this one won’t come from McConnell or Ryan. Neither Pence nor Priebus seem to have warmed up to the idea either. Unless Steve Bannon decides to give up focusing on banning/deporting immigrants to take up the cause of lobbying Congress (what a sight that would be!), I don’t see how anything happens. That’s why I’m still bearish on an infrastructure plan.

Nancy LeTourneau

Nancy LeTourneau is a contributing writer for the Washington Monthly.