Is Trump Becoming Hillary?

Will Donald Trump become the president that Hillary Clinton would have been before Bernie Sanders pushed her to the left? After all, he does not seem to have any real ideology and has no problem reversing his positions. After the public embarrassment of another legislative defeat or two, maybe he will just declare himself party-independent and decide to do whatever it takes to make his presidency ‘successful’.

He has already offered to work with the Democrats on health care. He is looking at supporting Barak Obama’s Federal Reserve chair (Janet Yellen) and some of his economic policies. He is cozying up to China and taking actions that annoy Russia.

Sure, his appointees and executive orders have been nothing like what Clinton would have done. But it is early – Trump has not even been president for 100 days yet. Already Steve Bannon’s influence is being supplanted by a life long NY Democrat – Jared Kushner. There will undoubtedly be more changes to come.

At the end of the day, this president asks himself not what is good for the country, but what is good for the Trump brand. Interestingly, if he decides that political success is better for the brand than ideology, it might also be better for the country.

Trump, Putin And The Syrian Quagmire

Donald Trump and Vladimir Putin have a number of similarities. Both are bullies. Both feel a need to demonstrate their virility. Both fancy themselves as very crafty deal makers.

There are also some differences. Putin has been successful in one of the most difficult and backstabbing political environments in the world for several decades. Trump is just  getting his feet wet in the political arena. My money is on Putin letting Trump maneuver him into just the spot that Putin wants to be.

Which is out of Syria.

What does Russia really want out of its activity in Syria?

  1. Pressure on Islamic militants which are also threatening the Russia internally
  2. Access to a naval port on the Mediterranean (Tartus) an air base (Latakia)
  3. Syrian stability – meaning Turkey, the Kurds, Iran, Israel, Hezbollah and Saudi Arabia do not expand their influence into Syria in response to a power vacuum which could have a domino effect of destabilizing the status quo in the Middle East which Russia has learned to live with.

The US shares the first and third goals, and could probably live with some form of the second, especially since it is nothing new. Russia has had access to the Tartus naval base since 1971.

If Russia could withdraw from Syria and achieve its goals it would. The primary reason for supporting Assad is that without him, goals 2 and 3 are in jeopardy.  But if Trump were to agree to some continued access to the naval and air bases, and they could agree on a political structure that included non-Assad Baathists and the non-Islamic opposition, why not jettison Assad?

Meanwhile, on the way to this deal both sides get some positives. Trump gets to demonstrate his virility by bombing Syria and standing up to Putin. But this also helps Putin, because one of Trump’s feet (the left one) is now a bit stuck in Syria which should bring him to the table faster.

At the end of the day, neither side really wants a long term engagement in Syria or anywhere else in the Middle East. Look for them both to get out as soon as they can cut a deal.

Republican President = Invasion?

It seems like every Republican president over the past 40 years has instigated a significant invasive military action involving ground troops.

  • Ronald Reagan invaded Granada
  • George Bush Sr. invaded Iraq
  • George Bush Jr. invaded Iraq and Afghanistan

Bill Clinton followed Bush Sr., and while there was military action on his watch, it did not involve ground troops, just bombing. Barak Obama committed ground troops, but this was a continuation of the wars he inherited from Bush Jr., not something he initiated on his own.

The question is whether Republican Donald Trump will follow the pattern. He did not waste much time putting the military to work in Syria, but that was an air strike, not a commitment of ground troops. Would Donald Trump really want to invade Syria?

Possibly. What if Trump and Putin both agreed to put ground troops in Syria to fight the Islamists? This would not happen before they had come to an agreement on the future of President Assad and the country itself, but stranger things have happened.

States’ Rights

With Donald Trump in charge of the executive branch and the Republicans in charge of Congress, it is unlikely that there will much ‘serious’ investigation into alleged illegal activity by members of the administration, much less criminal prosecution. The main threat to corrupt and conflicted officials (as well as legislation) could end up being the attorney generals of blue states such as California, New York, Washington and Illinois.

We have already seen this starting to happen. First were their challenges to the new immigration rules. Now one of the attorney generals is going after the head of the Environmental Protection Agency. Why not? Filing a legal motion against Trump’s actions or appointees is a complete win for any attorney general in a deeply blue state, even it is not successful.

Will the courts indulge these attorney generals? It is probably safe to say that some of these cases will end up in the Supreme Court. Which has a new justice, who ostensibly subscribes to the conservative movement’s staunch support of state’s rights. It remains to be seen if this support holds if the state in question happens to be blue.

The Media: Incremental Progress

When Donald Trump first started running for president, the media treated it like a joke. The prevailing tone was, “Can you believe this guy? I mean, really, he is so crude!” It was pretty much the same way the US political media covered other candidates from world of show business like Jesse Ventura and Arnold Schwarzenegger: incredulity and a touch of condescension.

Well, it turns out that many folks could believe Trump, and liked the straightforward way he said things as well. It took the media quite a while to process this. Like until after the election. Once he was president-elect, they started treating him a bit more like a politician. But they were still easily manipulated and thrown off course by him. It was like watching a master puppeteer at work.

There are now signs that the media has made some additional incremental progress. The media is now more aware that it is part of Trump’s misdirection efforts, although it still seems powerless to stop this. It is also starting to call patently false statements ‘lies’ instead of “untruths” or some other euphemism.

The media is still too easily manipulated by tweets, but maybe this will also change with time. Since Trump will never stop tweeting, maybe the media should refrain from reporting Trump’s tweets before they can get an appropriate comment from his nemesis: the Governator.

The Art Of The Naked Deal

Donald Trump attributes his success in the business world to his prowess in deal making. He even wrote a book about it. Now that he is president, he has to cut lots of deals. There is one main difference though. The deals he cuts as president are much more visible than the ones he cut as a businessman.

Any time Trump – or any president – cuts a deal it is immediately dissected by the Washington establishment. Any possible flaw will be exposed. It doesn’t really matter if it was the best deal he could have gotten or if he is playing a long game in his negotiating strategy. Someone will find a good reason to criticize the deal.

For weeks after the deal is done, the media will continue to investigate it. More of the deal’s apparent flaws will be revealed. And the whole country will know about them.

This is not something Donald Trump is used to. It cannot be pleasant for him to have one of his key skills constantly questioned in the most public way, and all of his deals stripped bare.

At first, he will try to stop the leaks that are frustrating his ability to cut secret deals. He will retaliate against leakers and those in the press that publicize the leaks. Courts permitting, he may even try some very draconian retaliation.

But stopping leaks in Washington is a hopeless cause and the information will eventually get out. Will Trump’s deal-making reputation take a hit among his supporters or will he continue to be able to explain any flaws away?