28 August 2017

How Will Trump Try to Save His Presidency

In my previous post, I outlined the elements that could sink Trump's presidency.

Losing the support of corporate titans is a big deal as it will make governing much harder: If they all take a risk averse position, like Waterbridge, the currency and bond markets could sink.

And if stock prices tanked as well, collectively they could drag down the entire US economy.

Already, Trump's threat to shut down government over the funding of his "big beautiful wall" had a sgnificant impact: the "rate on Treasury bills maturing Oct. 12 jumped by as much as 5 basis points Thursday, the largest intraday move since March."

Expect more economic turbulence during the upcoming debt-ceiling debate.

Trump's other problem is more pressing. Robert Mueller is gathering evidence on the link between Russian dirty money and Trump Organization's decades long efforts to launder it.

A smoking gun, or as it is more likely, an arsenal of smoking guns on those shady deals would be much more damaging in the eyes of Trump supporters than a tenuous link between Russian hackers and US elections.

The latter could be dismissed as fake news, the former reveals Trump as a crooked One Percenter.

To make matters worse, Trump's unhinged tweets and his approving reaction to neo-Nazi violence led the Establishment to question his fitness for the office.
"Republicans in Congress, the highest of intelligence officials, the highest of military officers in our country, leaders of the business community -- all of whom have dealt with the White House, and many of them dealt personally with Donald Trump -- have come to believe that he is unfit for the presidency," Bernstein told CNN's Brian Stelter on Sunday. He said those people are "raising the very question of his stability and his mental fitness." 
Given this background, the question for people around him is this: how do you save a senile thin-skinned bully with a narcissistic personality disorder?

My somewhat educated guess is that Javanka and John Kelly have a comprehensive plan.

They are responsible for the entire portfolio of Trump Administration, after all.

But will it work?

Let's start with the plan.

Mollifying the Establishment

The first step would be to repair Trump's relationship with the business community and what better way to do it than passing a massive tax cut for One Percenters.
The Trump administration has decided to push hard for tax reform and dial down a controversial national security investigation into steel imports in a bid to swing Republican support behind the president after the turmoil of recent weeks, according to senior officials. 
They said that former marine general John Kelly, the new chief of staff, was leading efforts to restore order to the White House and reassure Republican leaders alarmed by Donald Trump’s equivocal reaction to white nationalist-fuelled violence in Virginia last week and the subsequent open criticism from business leaders.
Along with that, the plan would call for him to persuade Congress to review and shrink the Volcker rule so that Wall Street firms and banks can play the stock market with their own money.

If Trump succeeds, this might even stop Lloyd Blankfein from trolling him on Twitter.

Vampire squid tamer Matt Taibbi is pleased as there are signs that this is already happening.

Next step would be to give the Pentagon some generous war goodies.

Which has already happened, in the form of the Afghanistan announcement that calls for troop increase.

I say "war goodies" because Trump's shiny new Afghan policy does not have achievable goals or an exit strategy or even a timeline. It has no purpose other than appease the generals, especially the ones who think he is unfit for the office.

Naturally, the "warrior monk" James "Mad Dog" Mattis is pleased.

The third step would be to move Trump away from the alt-right discourse, soften his interventions to make him more presidential and establish some message control.

In that respect, Steve Bannon's exit is significant and it shows that Kelly is now in charge. Same with the recent departure of the rather ghoulish Sebastian Gorka.

His guiding hand is also evident in persuading Trump (after his rambling and angry speech in Arizona) to use a teleprompter and to stay on message for his rally in Reno, Nevada where he called for unity.

But is it possible to keep Trump under control?

After all, he has a beautiful brain and he is his own counsel.

So this is the question:

Could This Plan Work?

To put it bluntly, I seriously doubt it.

That's not just because Trump is Trump. He is. And that's a big obstacle.

But more importantly, the plan's implementation requires Trump to overcome some contradictory elements and that might not be possible.

Let's go through the items.

Tax reform is unlikely to pass.

Sure, all the deficit scolds like Fix the Debt folks are shamelessly supporting a plan that would reduce tax revenue by a staggering 3.9 trillion over the next decade.
Some of the same people who were anxious about the debt sounded delighted by Donald Trump’s plan to cut taxes for corporations and high earners, trumpeting it as a way to fuel growth. Never mind that estimates from the conservative-leaning Tax Foundation showed Trump’s campaign plan could reduce federal revenue by $3.9 trillion over 10 years. 
And under normal circumstances GOP would only be too happy to oblige, as they have every time they were in power.

You know, #StarveTheBeast.

But Trump is in the middle of another nasty feud with Mitch McConnell, John McCain and a number of prominent Republicans so it is hard for the White House to expect much support at the Hill for their legislative agenda.

Moreover, his vicious attacks and his tendency to hog all the credit and deflect all the blame is already making the Republican Congress trepidatious.

In that context, if the Senate Democrats held firm as they did for the Obamacare repeal efforts, it would be difficult for the GOP leadership to find the requisite 60 votes in the Senate.

In fact, since this massive giveaway to the ultra-rich would make a touchy campaign issue during next year's midterm elections, some vulnerable GOP Representatives might balk, fearing electoral backlash from their constituency.

As I said, it is unlikely.

The second leg of the plan, which is expanding the war in Afghanistan with a troop surge, is easier to implement, as it might go unnoticed for a while.

As we know from the Iraq War, all you need to do is to populate Sunday morning talk shows with a bunch of Very Serious People (VSP), in Atrios' phrase, and soon folks will believe that America's longest war is actually winnable.

If you can also control the information about body bags, as Bush successfully did, the time frame for maintaining this illusion is quite large.

These efforts will also be helped by the fact that there is nothing more presidential than blowing up people, as we know from the Syria strike and the subsequent media lovefest.

So, this one could work.

The third element is the trickiest.

Leaving MAGA Nation Behind

The third element, that is, moving Trump away from his racist, divisive and belligerent discourse and gently nudging him towards a more acceptable platform might be the biggest problem.

You see, before Charlottesville, the MAGA Nation was showing signs of support erosion.
Last month, Gallup found that Trump’s approval rating was underwater in 31 states nationwide—including 11 that he won in the election. FiveThirtyEight’s adjusted poll aggregator shows that his popularity has hit an all-time low of 36.6 percent—worse than any other president at the same 200-day mark in more than 60 years of polling.
An Investor's Business Daily (IBD) poll puts his disapproval rating at %32, the lowest figure for his entire presidency.

That general decline has also seeped into his Republican base. Overall, between July and August, there is a drop of 11 to 12 point in all categories of voters.

However, as CNN noted, the fall is less steep among non-college whites, which was his core group in the election. But even in that group, there is a significant decline.
But that standing still represents an erosion from his 2016 vote among blue-collar whites in 12 of those states; in five of them, he's declined by double-digits. Perhaps most important are the trends in four of the Rust Belt states that proved decisive last year: Michigan, Ohio, Wisconsin and Pennsylvania. In all of them exit polls found Trump won between 62 and 64% of non-college whites. (...)
In Wisconsin, for instance, Trump's approval among whites without a college degree now stands at 51%, close to Romney's 53% vote share in 2012 but far below Trump's own 62%. Likewise, in Pennsylvania, Trump is now at 55% approval with non-college whites, almost exactly Romney's 56% vote in 2012, but well below the president's 64% among them.
In that sense, Trump cannot afford to move his message to the center. Already, he is hemorrhaging support among the educated white conservatives which occupy that space. Moving into their field would not help him.

He needs to stay with his core constituency and he needs to stir them up. This is especially the case because when Mueller strikes they are the only ones who are likely to stay with him.

There is one more thing.

People refer to Trumpistas as fringe elements or extreme right wingers. They are not. They are the heart and soul of the Republican Party and they represent the vast majority of their primary voters.

After Charlottesville, most news outlets claimed that Trump's numbers sank. Google it and you'll see.

In fact they held steady. The downward trend noted above notwithstanding, there is less than one percent shift between pre and post Charlottesville.
As of Wednesday evening, Trump’s approval rating was 36.9 percent, according to the FiveThirtyEight average, down only slightly from 37.6 percent on the day before1 a counter-protester and two police officers were killed in Charlottesville. His disapproval rating was 56.8 percent, up only slightly from 56.3 percent before Charlottesville.
So his support of neo-Nazis did not negatively affect his standing within his constituency.

That's because the voters who flocked to Trump are not there for the issues.

They adore Trump because, like them, he feels aggrieved and wronged by others and he liberally lashes out at them. They feel exactly the same way.

And like him, they are frustrated that they are no longer allowed to express their martyrdom in an appropriate (i.e. aggressive) manner because of rampant Political Correctness.

These are the people who declare, poll after poll, that White Christians are the most discriminated against group in America.
Fully 77% of Trump voters think the president "did enough" to condemn white nationalist violence in Charlottesville. Two-thirds of them had no problem with the president's delay in mentioning neo-Nazis and white supremacists by name. 
Perhaps most remarkably, 48% of Trump voters think the Charlottesville white nationalists either "have a point" (37%) or were "mostly right" (11%). And 68% of Trump voters see "a lot of discrimination" against white people in the US.
To them, Trump's pro-white, racist, sexist and anti-liberal stances represent a time when men were men, women, kids and minorities knew their places and that was that.

Which is why, surprising as that may seem, he does have a considerable following among African Americans, Hispanics, Muslims and, of course, white women who do not mind an occasional pussy grab.

Trump is their warrior and he is avenging them and he is standing up to them (whoever "them" might be) and he is kicking them viciously.

As long as he does that, in their eyes, he can do no wrong.

This is how Nate Silver puts it.
Trump won 23 percent of everyone, regardless of party, who cast a vote in the Democratic or Republican primaries last year. Those are the people who were truly with him from the start. 
A recent Monmouth University poll found that 61 percent of Trump supporters said they’d never change their minds about him
That works out to about 23 percent of the country overall. About 20 percent of voters say they strongly approve of Trump.
In other words, despite his overall decline, Trump has not lost his core constituency. And more importantly, he cannot afford to turn them off.

Besides, Steve Bannon and alt-right already warned him that if he abandoned those aggrieved white nationalists they would launch the mother of all wars. And that is a credible threat: Any negative news coming from Washington Post may be shrugged off but coming from Breitbart and similar outlets, they will hurt.

With Mueller breathing down his neck Trump is stuck. So he will continue to be their fighter: Hence Joe Arpaio pardon.

However, that is a problem in and of itself.

He cannot govern with 23 percent of the electorate behind him.

The system that made One Percenters possible relies on a sanitized, bland environment where government is silently making changes for a continual upward income redistribution without ordinary people noticing: Do not wake them up and take their attention away from baseball, Survivor and Entertainment Tonight.

In that sense, Trump and his 24-hour Twitter cycle is making One Percenters very unhappy. Why cheer the neo-Nazis and get all this media attention on stupid and useless stuff, they say, people could start paying attention and then we are screwed.

OK, maybe not screwed, as we will continue the plundering, but why make the whole thing more difficult?

So if he cannot give them their tax cuts and deregulation they will turn on him.

On top of that, intelligence agencies will continue their regular leaks of damaging information.

And soon GOP will realize that 2018 midterm elections might become a bloodbath.

At that point Trump will have one card to play.

And that's starting a big and beautiful war.

His short fingers are already on the buttons.

Stay tuned.


This is how Wall Street feels about Trump presidency:
Despite an initial excitement about having a “C.E.O. president” in the White House who would promote business-friendly policies and unleash growth the likes of which the world had never seen, Wall Street and business leaders have begun to get the sinking feeling that a six-time bankrupt real-estate developer might not turn out to be the savior they were promised. As Trump remains unable to focus for one freaking second in order to get his legislative agenda passed, insiders have been selling millions of their banks’ own shares, with sales by board members and executives outnumbering purchases by roughly 14 to one, according to the Financial Times. In total, top brass at the U.S.’s six biggest banks have dumped a net 9.32 million in shares since the beginning of the year. Since the election, UBS credit analyst Robert Smalley, bank stocks have become “a barometer” for “failure or success” of Trump’s policies. Given the lack of them, you can kind of see where Wall Street is coming from.

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