The first two-and-a-half months of Donald Trump’s presidency have been anything but boring.
In fact, the pace simply is not sustainable — not for the president, not for his staff, not for the White House press corps.
The stunning Obamacare setback dealt to President Trump and House Speaker Paul D. Ryan by their own Republican conference will have real repercussions.
It emboldened the Freedom Caucus. It gave Democrats a victory. It threw a wrench into a finely crafted legislative strategy and complicates the legislative schedule for this year. And it makes tax reform, already difficult, that much harder.
But all is not lost.
Mr. Trump still has a golden opportunity to have a very successful first year in office, but it will require focus, determination, calm and strategy.
Here’s my suggested six-step playbook to a successful 2017:
• Confirm Judge Neil Gorsuch on April 7 — If Senate Democrats are politically suicidal, they will filibuster this eminently qualified nominee. The Democrats aren’t even making substantive arguments about Judge Gorsuch’s record. A filibuster will force Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell to utilize the “nuclear option” to confirm the justice by a simple majority vote, ending 230 years of Senate precedent. More importantly, when the next seat comes open, presumably Justice Anthony M. Kennedy (the swing vote) or Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg (a liberal), Mr. Trump will appoint whomever he wants, and there will be nothing Democrats can do to stop that nominee. Anyone for Justice Mike Lee or Justice Ted Cruz?
• Pass tax reform this year — Unlike the Obamacare debate, there is broad agreement within the House GOP conference on tax reform, based on the skillful blueprint developed by House Ways and Means Chairman Kevin Brady last year. There will be some disagreement about a border adjustment tax, but the goals of tax simplification, a corporate tax cut, repatriation of profits made overseas and a middle-class tax cut are ones all Republicans share. The White House and the House GOP should move together with all deliberate speed as soon as May so that a final bill can reach Mr. Trump’s desk this year.
• Improve poll numbers — President Trump’s political capital will be limited if his approval numbers remain below 40 percent. He must win over independent voters who may have found his outsider credibility and campaign message appealing but remain concerned about his ability to govern. Politically weak presidents cannot persuade members of the opposing party to come in their direction.
• Campaign in red states with Democrat incumbents — Mr. Trump’s blowout victory margins in five states with Senate Democratic incumbents up for re-election in 2018 was staggering: West Virginia (a 42 percent winning margin), North Dakota (36 percent), Montana (20 percent), Indiana (19 percent) and Missouri (18.5 percent). The president needs to be regularly visiting these states to pressure these five Democratic senators for the rest of this year. Add five more states that Mr. Trump won where Democratic incumbents are up for re-election in 2018: Florida, Ohio, Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin. This is fertile territory for Mr. Trump either to win over Democratic lawmakers for parts of his legislative agenda or flip Senate seats in 2018 and go from a 52-vote majority to 57 or 58 votes.
• Utilize executive orders — Mr. Trump has successfully used his executive authority from the first days of his presidency. Just this week he ended President Obama’s Clean Power Plan, which hurt our economy now for weak promises of future action from big-polluting nations like China and India. He and his Cabinet should continue to use executive orders to roll back harmful Obama-era policies and unlock the full potential of the economy.
• Promote the strengthening economy — Democrats will deny these facts, but they are indisputable: The February jobs report showed that the national unemployment rate fell to 4.7 percent and the economy grew by 235,000 jobs in February, far above the expected 190,000. Average hourly earnings increased 2.8 percent on an annualized basis. The stock market is up nearly 15 percent since Mr. Trump’s election. Consumer confidence in March hit the highest level in more than 16 years. The “Trump Bump” is a real thing, and the president needs to ensure voters know it.
April is around the corner, but the prospect of a successful 2017 is still within reach.
By executing a plan such as this, he will begin 2018 in a far stronger political position than he’s in right now.
• Matt Mackowiak is the president of Austin-based Potomac Strategy Group, a Republican consultant, a Bush administration and Bush-Cheney re-election campaign veteran and former press secretary to two U.S. senators. He is the host of a new national politics podcast, “Mack on Politics,” produced in partnership with The Washington Times. His podcast may be found at washingtontimes.com/mackonpolitics.
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