Conventional wisdom proclaims that the Republicans will pass something on tax reform; the generals (Jim Mattis at the Defense Department, Chief of Staff John F. Kelly and H.R. McMaster at the National Security Council) will keep us from danger; and, in the post-Reince Priebus, post-Stephen K. Bannon era, things will settle down in the Trump administration.
Frankly, not one of those things is assured. To the contrary, we’ve seen that it is entirely possible that none of it will come about. This presidency may have a long way to go before hitting bottom.
Charlie Cook rightly scoffs at the argument that tax reform will get done because otherwise Republicans are cooked. “On Wall Street and in corporate headquarters around the country, proponents have talked themselves (or their clients) into believing that tax reform is possible even though Congress has not passed a significant piece of legislation this year,” Cook writes. “The truth is that reforming, streamlining, or simplifying the tax code is incredibly difficult under the best of circumstances, and circumstances today are worse than usual. Even passing a big tax cut, which sounds easy (who turns down free candy?), is problematic because it either drives up the deficit or shifts the tax burden to other payers.”
The initial rollout of a half-baked tax-reform bill heavily tilted to the rich, certain to produce mounds of new debt and a nonstarter for blue-state Republicans who desperately want to hold onto the state and local tax deduction, reminded us just how inept Republicans have become in crafting popular, coherent policy. Throw in an erratic president with no idea what precisely is in legislation he favors, and it’s very easy to see a repeat of the health-care disaster. We might witness a watered-down tax cut, but it’s becoming less likely that Republicans have the skill to carry off a massive tax bill of the type they have been promising.
The generals, we see time and again, may be the best of Trump’s advisers, but they are not magicians nor prison guards. They cannot keep Trump from his phone nor from making ridiculous and unsettling impromptu remarks. They cannot keep aides from insulting him behind his back or leaking nor prevent Trump’s sense of crass entitlement from infecting the rest of the administration - leading to abuse of privileges such as private-plane travel.
As for Kelly, CNN reported: “In the game of revolving senior aides and Cabinet members that has become Trump’s White House, a new question has emerged: How long will Kelly last?” Any success Kelly has cannot be allowed to upstage the president; any failures suggest he’s failed to bring normalcy to the White House. With the latest public debacle involving Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, we see that not even Trump’s most respected advisers can save Trump from destroying his top diplomat.
So contrary to hype about Trump “normalizing” or becoming “presidential,” there has been an uptick, not a diminution, in crises, gaffes and cringe-worthy errors since Kelly arrived.
“Nineteen percent of Americans say President Trump understands the needs and problems of people like them extremely or very well, 17 percent say moderately well, and 64 percent say he understands their needs and problems not very well or not well at all.
“Twenty-six percent believe President Trump is a strong leader, 23 percent view him as honest, and 16 percent say he is level-headed. Republicans are most likely to use each of these terms to describe the president.”