President Donald Trump is continually surprised by the obvious — health care is hard, the presidency is harder than running a private family company with no accountability.
Newt Gingrich remarked, “I think he’s much more aware how complicated the world is. This will all be more uphill than he thought it would be because I think he had the old-fashioned American idea that you run for office, you win, then people behave as though you won.” That’s not old fashioned; that’s wrong, the product of an uncurious mind, a stunted attention span and juvenile temperament.
His grandiosity — a burning need for impressive quick wins — has driven his presidency into the ditch. The more he ruminates about repealing Obamacare and insists on the “biggest tax cut in history,” the less he is going to accomplish. The best his advisers can do for him is to loosen his grip on gigantic, unattainable ends and work on middle-size, bipartisan wins.
He might take Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-New York, at his word. On Friday, Schumer said on the Senate floor, “President Trump could have chosen to spend his first 100 days working with Democrats, to find consensus on issues like jobs, trade, outsourcing and infrastructure — places where we have some common ground.” He added, “I told him many times that if he governed from the middle, his presidency would have some success.”
He might have added to the list: additional reform of the Veterans Administration, expansion of postsecondary education opportunities, revenue neutral corporate tax reform and reform of our legal immigration system. Somewhere in that list are a few items he can pluck out, offer to work on with Democrats and thereby show he really does care about the lives of ordinary Americans.
Trump and the GOP overreached and under-planned their opening agenda. Democrats justifiably complained there was little to no consultation with them on the big agenda items. What policies did come out of the White House and House Republicans (on the Muslim ban, sanctuary cities, health care) were hastily-drafted, flawed and therefore unattractive. No wonder they flopped.
Moderation and steadiness, to put it mildly, are not qualities that come easily to Trump. But that is how successful governance is usually done — small and medium steps done on a bipartisan basis. If this sounds like the approach of some Midwestern governors, it is. When you look to the heartland, where Trump won (Michigan, Ohio, Wisconsin), you see dogged Republican governors working with a mix of Democratic and Republican legislators to churn out concrete accomplishments. Each of these GOP governors, interestingly, won a second term in 2014. (John Kasich in Ohio got 63 percent of the vote.)
The way to lower partisanship and get things done is to downscale ambition and look for opportunities that the other side does not find entirely objectionable. On health care, for example, why not pursue a bill to increase rural health-care options, something both sides recognize is a problem? House Speaker Paul D. Ryan can keep churning away at repeal and replace, but in the meantime a positive result could be achieved.
Unfortunately, no one in Trump’s inner circle — even the saner types (e.g., Gary Cohn) — has governing experience. Perhaps they will figure out along the way that bluster, grandiosity and bullying may work in New York real estate, but they are spectacularly unhelpful in politics.
Jennifer Rubin writes the Right Turn blog for The Washington Post, offering reported opinion from a conservative perspective.