No experience in government. Volatile, combative, thin-skinned and hooked on impulsively tweeting out unvarnished boasts, complaints, insults and made-up claims. A top staff of misfit elves with no White House experience, serious legislative or policy accomplishments and only work in campaigns, party politics and news-ish media. A first day in office eclipsed by protests across the country, probably the largest political demonstration in American history.
No wonder President Trump’s first days as the most powerful person in the world were rocky and embarrassing.
There is another, very different, side to the story.
Away from the chaos and incoming fire, Trump seems to have accomplished in a weekend something few recent presidents ever managed, except in fleeting spurts. He has hog-tied the entire Republican membership in the House and Senate. They are as obedient and lily-livered as abused puppies.
Could it be that the amateur, the outsider, the renegade is a statecraft prodigy?
Only time will tell, as the news anchors say. But right now, he looks like Bismarck with a bouffant.
Case in point: It appears that Trump will get all his Cabinet nominees confirmed, though one or two are iffy. But, you say, Republicans control the Senate. Indeed they do. Trump, however, has nominated a few people who repel many Republicans, nominees whom the GOP never would have let George W. Bush get away with.
Ben Carson has been an irritating parasite for eight years, universally seen in the GOP as coco-nuts and getting less coherent by the hour.
Steve Mnuchin is everything the GOP wants to hide: a gilded portrait of greed, inherited privilege, predatory capitalism and no record of public service or macroeconomic policy expertise. But loyal Senate soldiers sucked it up and pretended he was qualified.
Then there’s Rex Tillerson, a complicated case. His experience running a company larger than the economies of many countries suits his assignment. But, John McCain and Lindsey Graham, two of the few Senate Republicans who eat their Wheaties at breakfast, had serious concerns, as did Marco Rubio.
Tillerson cut deals with some nasty dictators and despots; does that indicate an ethical shiftiness we don’t want in a Secretary of State? Was Tillerson’s worldview entirely commercial? In conflicts between commerce, national security and humanitarian values, would he naturally favor commerce? Mostly, the senators worried about his close ties to Vladimir Putin, which Trump seems to love, of course.
McCain and Graham, walking hand-in-hand as usual, backed down quickly. Rubio held out long enough to display some public hand-wringing. Then he did what he always does. He caved. At his phony-baloney announcement of this very tough decision, a witty gadfly waved a model of a human spine, an anatomical structure Rubio reportedly lacks.
This was a big win for Trump’s whip and it should embarrass McCain and Graham, though Rubio appears to be immune from embarrassment.
Monday night congressional kingpins from both parties visited Trump at the White House. Trump went off on a delusional rant about how millions of illegal aliens illegally voted for Hillary Clinton, costing Trump the popular vote. This is Loch Ness monster stuff. Was there no Republican in the room with enough sense and guts to say, “I’m sorry Mr. President, that has been verified as false and we strongly suggest that harping on this will damage your approval ratings and worry Republicans who are eager to support you?” There was no such Republican in the room. Send in the spines.
Worshippers of the power of free markets, congressional Republicans are passively letting Trump unleash outlandish assaults on free markets. The core of free market theory is that economies perform best when capital is distributed by open markets, the collective wisdom of the crowd; when governments interfere with markets through over regulation, tax breaks for preferred sectors or subsidies and bailouts, the market is perverted, less efficient and less productive.
Among Trump’s early, high-profile moves were acts of what can only be called market extortion. With no authorizing legislation, Trump has threatened companies with tariffs and punishments if they invest in jobs outside the U.S. He mocked and threated individual companies.
This is about as blatantly anti-free market as it gets — and as imperial as imperial presidencies get. Ye the fervent free-marketeers in the Republican caucus cower in the corner, like those abused puppies.
Trump happily throws the right wing some bones that he doesn’t care about. Want to cut off aid to do-gooders who provide abortions in Africa? Not a problem, do it. Want an Education secretary to ditch public schools? Not a problem, get her confirmed.
What might deliver some spines to the Republican cloakrooms? Maybe a total Trump meltdown, bad polls in 2018 or spiking cloakroom water coolers.
For this bright, sleazy moment, however, The Donald looks like the Don of Pennsylvania Avenue.
Dick Meyer is Chief Washington Correspondent for the Scripps Washington Bureau and DecodeDC.com.