Sunday, March 26, 2017

Donald Trump: Carter or Nixon?

During the campaign, I wrote regularly that if Trump ever got elected, he would be Jimmy Carter on domestic policy.  As an outsider with no connections to his own party and poor relations with those in DC, his agenda would be stymied-- a point I derived from Consequences of Party Reform, by Nelson W. Polsby (my grad school advisor).  So far, his first major agenda item has gone down in acrimonious flames.  So, Carter, right?

The vote didn't actually happen because Paul Ryan followed regular congressional norms and canceled the vote to avoid a) the embarrassment of losing formally, b) the formally split party, and c) forcing anyone to cast a vote that they might not have wanted to cast.  Ryan will not go down in history as one of the greatest Speakers ever, but he isn't a complete moron.  But, the most stunning/not-stunning leak recently is from this New York Times piece indicating that Bannon wanted a vote to happen so that there would be a tally of no-voters for Trump's enemies list.  This isn't how Carter operated.  It is how Nixon operated.  Or, rather, it is dumber than how Nixon operated.  Nixon didn't try to force votes in Congress that he couldn't win just to get an enemies list.  He could keep a tally based on private negotiations of who wouldn't be on board, if so inclined.  This kind of tactic is a level of stupidity and douchiness that Nixon knew not to use.  Ryan didn't do it, and Trump was talked out of trying to force the issue, but it does raise a point.  Trump isn't Carter.  He has the same positional weaknesses as Carter-- he is an outsider with no connections to his own national party, and poor relations with those in it.  However, his self-destructive, paranoid, vindictive streak is even worse than Nixon's, and Bannon is there to fan the flames.

Nixon actually accomplished a lot on domestic policy, but he did so by working with the Democratic congressional majority.  He wasn't an ideologue.  Trump isn't an ideologue either.  However, he can't work with the Freedom Caucus because no one can work with the Freedom Caucus, and he has dug himself in to the extent that it will be hard to work with Democrats.  He doesn't back down or admit error, and his rhetoric has alienated them to an extent that makes bipartisanship highly improbable.  And even if he wanted to work with them legislatively, the Republican House majority would block consideration of Democratic bills (at least through 2018), so Trump can't work with Democrats no matter what.

During the campaign, I wrote a lot about how Trump would be as ineffectual as Carter on domestic policy.  It is actually a fascinating combination of the worst traits of Carter and Nixon that combine to make up Trump.

Now he thinks he'll do tax reform.  Yeah, that'll happen...


  1. He also has an interesting comparison to Nixon.

    Nixon gave less than zero fucks about legislative politics. He was a wonk, through and through. He worked with Congress because it was still committee-centered and he could talk policy preferences with the chairmen. But he didn't care at all about whip counts or such. From what digging I've done, I can find no evidence that Nixon particularly cared about weighing in on veto threats or shaping how his administration did that. That was somebody else's problem.

    Trump? That's literally the only thing he can think to care the slightest bit about. He needs an enemies he can campaign against them! He thinks the entirety of politics is what he's seen on Fox & Friends.

    1. I'm pretty sure he watches Hannity too. And Napolitano (before he got yanked from the air). And that other Judge Whatshername... Call it a conservative arts education.