Politically Thinking, Eric L. Davis: Trump approach could help Democrats

Prior to last year’s election, Steve Bannon, Donald Trump’s former campaign manager and White House strategist, was quoted as saying “I am a Leninist. Lenin wanted to destroy the state and that’s my goal too. I want to bring everything crashing down and destroy all of today’s establishment.”
Although Bannon is no longer working inside the White House, his spirit is still very much present. Announcements over the past week make clearer every day that, although President Trump has little understanding of either domestic or foreign policy, or how political choices have consequences, both for Americans at home and other nations around the world, his decisions are motivated more and more by a desire to “destroy the state” and “to bring everything crashing down.”
If a policy was put in place by one of his predecessors, especially by Barack Obama, whose legitimacy as president Trump seems not yet to have reconciled himself to, Trump’s response is “tear it down!” regardless of the effects. Whether it is the NAFTA trade agreement, the Paris agreement on climate change, the international agreement regarding Iran’s nuclear activities, the DACA immigration policy, or health care subsidies, Trump’s approach is “Do away with it!” because “I am a winner!”
Some of Trump’s policy choices make no sense at all. For example, Trump defended his announcement last week that the administration would no longer make payments to health insurance companies to cover reduced co-pays, deductibles, and other out-of-pocket costs for some Obamacare policyholders by tweeting that insurance company stocks “plunged” on Wall Street after the announcement. Actually, Trump’s announcement will lead to increases in health insurance premiums, an increase in the federal deficit and national debt ($194 billion over 10 years), an increase in uninsured Americans, and some insurance companies deciding to leave Obamacare marketplaces. Yet Trump claims his announcement will result in “great health care.”
Meanwhile, while Trump pursues Bannon’s “crash and destroy” strategy within the government, Bannon is doing the same thing on the outside, now to the Republican Party. Bannon has pledged to recruit Republican Senate candidates to oppose representatives of the “swamp” in next year’s GOP primaries, especially if those candidates will come out against Mitch McConnell’s continuing as Senate Republican leader. As Bannon said about McConnell in a speech at the Values Voters Summit, a conference in Washington last weekend, voters are “just looking to find out who is going to be Brutus to your Julius Caesar.”
Trump’s policies and Bannon’s strategy increase the probability of Democrats’ gaining enough seats in next year’s midterm elections to win majorities in the House and possibly even the Senate, in spite of the strong headwinds against those outcomes — gerrymandered districts in the House and 10 Democratic senators running for re-election in states Trump won last year. Most polls show that Trump’s approval rating is stuck below 40 percent, and while the economy is growing, that growth has not translated into wage gains for many of Trump’s core voters.
Most Democrats are focused on winning congressional seats from Republicans next year, but the Democrats are not without internecine conflicts of their own. For example, after Sen. Dianne Feinstein of California announced last week that she would run for re-election to a sixth term, some progressive Democrats — including both ambitious House members and state legislators and billionaire hedge fund operators and venture capitalists — said they were actively considering challenging her in the primary, because she is not progressive enough. These people would rather spend $50 million or more on a primary campaign between a center-left Democrat and a progressive Democrat than put that money to work on behalf of Democratic candidates in the seven California House districts represented by Republicans that Hillary Clinton won last November.
Eric L. Davis is professor emeritus of political science at Middlebury College.

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