Dr. Mark Curtis, Ed.D., is the Chief Political Reporter for the five Nexstar Media television stations in West Virginia.
(Washington, D.C.) – I was in the nation’s capital last week on assignment, and it got me to thinking about some of the tumultuous transitions of power we’ve had in this country. The Trump administration has had some major speed bumps along the road – including a big one this week - so let’s “brunch” on that:
“Obamacare Repeal” – The warning signs were already in place. As I have said for weeks, the House does not owe its Republican control to Mr. Trump. That majority was attained in 2010. So, it’s no surprise that enough Republicans bolted the party line and said “No” on the current repeal and replacement of Obamacare. It will be different if - and when - new healthcare legislation ever gets to the Senate, where clearly Trump’s coattails kept the Republican majority in charge. Make no mistake. This is a major defeat for the Republican Party, but by no means has the Titanic hit the iceberg yet.
“Getting Stuff Done” – All new administrations (and the media) focus almost obsessively on the “First 100 Days” of a new White House. I’m not sure where that emphasis originated, since rarely has anything monumental happened in the first three-plus months of any administration. As of today, we’re at day 66 of the Trump years. Yes, a bunch of Executive Orders were issued – some successful, some blocked in the courts – but the “100 Day” report card is still graded as “Incomplete.”
“Public vs. Private Sector” – I learned a valuable lesson covering the 1992 Presidential campaign, with businessman Ross Perot in the mix as an upstart independent candidate. Perot – like Trump – never held political office, but had made billions in private business. When you are the CEO, you can yell, “Jump!” and your workers reply by saying, “How high?” In politics, it doesn’t work that way, especially with built-in checks and balances on power. Mr. Trump simply can’t tell Congress what to do. Perot was placed on the Board of Directors at General Motors after it bought out his company. It was a contentious “shotgun marriage,” in which Perot could not get along with the others and was eventually dismissed. I deeply respect Perot, but the General Motors experience was an indication of his inability to work well with others in power. It’s a possible lesson for President Trump.
“The ‘Gorsuch Factor’” – For President Trump to turn the momentum in his first year, he needs a big, big victory. Since Democrats have now announced they will filibuster the nomination of Judge Neil Gorsuch for the U.S. Supreme Court, Trump has a battle he can fight and win. As mentioned earlier, the Senate owes its majority directly to Trump’s coattails, so he needs to call in the favor. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) has little choice but to invoke the “nuclear option” to let a simple majority of the Senate approve Gorsuch.
“Who’s at Justice?” – In 1993 it was almost like the famed Abbott and Costello skit, “Who’s On First?” except that it was a rough spot in the first weeks of the Clinton administration. Who would be the U.S. Attorney General? I was just days into my first job as a Congressional Aide, working for the House Judiciary Committee. Zoe Baird was nominated to be Attorney General, but dropped out after it was revealed that she had hired illegal immigrants to care for her children and had failed to file taxes. Then, Federal Judge Kimba Wood was nominated, only to bow out for also having an illegal-immigrant nanny. Janet Reno – the third nominee – became Attorney General. The lesson here was that President Clinton quickly cut his losses - twice - and moved on.
“Self-Inflicted Wounds” – I have often said in this column that the worst political wounds are frequently self-inflicted. Former President Clinton can blame Republicans all he wants for his 1998 impeachment, but it never would have happened if it weren’t for Mr. Clinton’s own reckless behavior. Partisans will argue for eternity about whether impeachment was warranted or not, but that’s beside the point. The President’s own actions led to a year-long power struggle that was a problem of his own making. Other cases in point: Congressman Anthony Weiner, President Richard Nixon, Congressman Wilbur Mills, Congressman Gary Condit, Senator Ted Kennedy, and the list goes on. In politics, you often “reap what you sow.”
“Why All This Matters” – Success in politics is about momentum, and about public support for your agenda. President Trump has wasted a lot of political capital with his incessant “tweets” that blow up in his face, e.g. the Obama wiretap claims. He needs to get his agenda back on track, and he needs to avoid offending his own allies. One thing he needs to remember is that every House member and one-third of the Senate will be up for reelection in 2018; but he is not. Many in his own party may abandon him to save their own political skins.
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