The Trump Administration Still Has No Idea What It’s Doing

We are now over a month into Trump Administration–over 1/3 of the way into the first 100 days honeymoon that new presidents usually receive. And the Trump team still has no idea what it is doing.

At CPAC Trump made many pronouncements about the things he was going to do: passing tax reform, repealing Obamacare, building the wall (“ahead of schedule” as he put it) and much more besides. But despite years of obstruction against the Obama Administration with promises enact tax reform and repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act if only Republicans were put in charge, it’s not clear Republicans have any concrete plans for how to achieve these things.

Consider tax reform. Republicans still can’t even decide on how to enact the simplest of tax cuts, mostly because voters are paying close attention to whether the tax cuts will actually help the middle class or just the rich. The bloom is off of the trickle-down rose, but Republicans have no actual intention of making the tax code more progressive even with simple middle-class cuts. They want to satisfy their wealthy donor base, but they’re gun-shy about making it too obvious. And that’s just the tax cuts. Tax reform itself is a much heavier lift, and there’s still no sign that the Republican caucus is coming to a consensus about the details of that reform, nor does it seem likely that policies will be emanating from the White House. The entire project is in limbo.

Replacing the Affordable Care Act is even more fraught with difficulty. Republicans around the country are mostly avoiding angry townhalls where constituents want to know exactly what Congress plans to do to keep them insured and alive. A leaked version of the Republican plan has been met with a firestorm of criticism for essentially slashing and removing benefits without doing much to replace them. Republican governors are balking at the notion, fearing for their own electoral prospects and their state budgets as they learn that millions will become uninsured under GOP plans. It’s not at all clear that enough Republicans in the House will be found to vote on and pass a unified repeal bill without an adequate replacement, and repeal-and-replace may be too large a lift. And that doesn’t even get into the difficulties in the Senate, even with using the reconciliation process to avert a filibuster. Meanwhile, of course, no plans are forthcoming from the White House.

No progress has yet been made on funding for a border wall, much less a coherent plan for how Mexico will pay for it (hint: it won’t.) Trump’s hostility to Mexico and plans to tax Mexican imports are threatening to start a trade war that would adversely affect America as much or more than it would Mexico. The more that Trump tries to put on the national credit card in terms of hiring border patrol and building walls, the more difficulties he will face from true-believer Tea Partiers who not only preach fiscal conservatism when a Democrat is president, but actually believe in it when a Republican is president, too.

And none of that even approaches Trump’s ineffectual moves on homeland security and foreign policy, from his scuttled travel ban to his secret plan to defeat ISIS within 30 days that, of course, never materialized.

Whether at his 2020 election campaign rallies or at press conferences or at venues like CPAC, Trump is still acting like a candidate with big plans. But it’s all sizzle and no steak.

There’s still time for Trump and the Republican Party to enact its agenda, of course. But the fact that Republicans have had this much time to consider what they would do if they were in power and to still be this divided about what to do is indicative that they either don’t know what they want to do, or more likely that they know that their policy goals are so unpopular it would lead to disaster for their party in 2018 and 2020.

David Atkins

David Atkins is a writer, activist and research professional living in Santa Barbara. He is a contributor to the Washington Monthly's Political Animal and president of The Pollux Group, a qualitative research firm.