President Donald Trump is caught in a vicious, losing cycle of his own making. First, take aim at an Obama administration policy or law. Second, declare that you have something much better. Third, roll out the “something,” which turns out to be nothing viable — in other words, fail.
This was the story on Obamacare. Trump vilified the law and promised the most magnificent plan ever. There was no magnificent plan that would cover more people, give more choices and cost less. Instead the GOP trotted out something that would have covered fewer people and cost some people more. It bombed. Trump is now reduced to trying to sink the Affordable Care Act bit by bit — but with no replacement. Trumpcare turns out to be a worse version of Obamacare.
Then there is the worst deal ever, in the history of mankind: the Iran deal. (Actually, I think it was the agreement to recognize Cuba with no human rights concessions from the Castros, but I digress.) Trump’s more mature advisers — Defense Secretary Jim Mattis, former secretary of state Rex W. Tillerson (he was ineffective, but mature) and former national security adviser H.R. McMaster — headed off the storm for a while. Not to be denied, Trump eventually blew up the deal. Now his new secretary of state rolls out some fiery rhetoric and a threat to sanction Iran - as well as our own allies. We may well forfeit the benefits of the deal, drive the European Union into Iran’s arms and look downright foolish. We still have no specific plan to address the non-nuclear items we could have addressed while remaining in the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action. Trump’s Iran policy turns out to be arguably less effective than President Barack Obama’s (since we no longer have allies at our side).
Pick any topic - trade with China, NAFTA, North Korea, etc. Trump goes in with maximalist demands, as if it were just another licensing deal or casino, with no idea how he is going to accomplish the end result. Alas, the international stage is not a TV show, nor can he conceal failures, as he could running a family business and exaggerating his wealth. His demands are often premised on things that just aren’t so (we “owe” someone the trade deficit, no one ever got a deal with North Korea, we are losing millions of jobs under NAFTA). He is either not educable, or his advisers are afraid to try. Together they run headlong into a wall (another silly promise, undeliverable!). He then is forced to blame others (usually Obama, sometimes Congress) or pretend he got what he wanted. (He keeps falsely telling crowds that he is building the wall.)
Rather than solve problems (expensive health-care premiums, theft of intellectual property) he creates new or bigger ones (even higher premiums, a trade war). His staff is forced to rush to rationalize and do damage control when he behaves impulsively, as he did in agreeing to a face-to-face summit with North Korea without understanding fully what he was doing. Trump acts rashly, and advisers rush to keep up and rationalize the outcome they didn’t expect and may not have supported. (The Post reports, “The biggest problem comes, experts [in Seoul] say, from Trump’s fundamental misunderstanding of North Korea’s interests. The regime in Pyongyang has never said it was prepared to unilaterally give up its nuclear program but has instead repeatedly made clear that this would have to be part of a ‘phased and synchronous’ process that would involve rewards for North Korea along the way.” Oops. That sounds like a rather large deal.)
Trump, the spin goes, likes to operate in chaos. That’s a convenient excuse for someone who has no idea what he thinks or what to do. The chaos certainly doesn’t stop at the Oval Office door. Creating confusion in lieu of sound strategy may work in reality TV or real estate or even on a campaign. Voters learn the hard way that it does not work in governing.
Jennifer Rubin writes the Right Turn blog for The Washington Post, offering reported opinion from a center-right perspective.