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2017-06-15 14:44:58 -
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With his decision to withdraw the United States from the Paris Agreement, President Donald Trump sent a very clear signal to the conservative base of the Republican Party: he is doubling down on his 2020 re-election strategy by making good on his campaign promises. It was also a resounding victory for the Trump Administration’s populist nationalist wing, demonstrating just how strong an influence the great manipulator Stephen Bannon and his reactionary allies, senior policy advisor Stephen Miller, Attorney General Jeff Sessions and EPA chief Scott Pruitt, have over the president.

While I continue to hold out hope that the more pragmatic members of the Trump Administration will eventually prevail over Bannon and his backward-looking minions, I have yet to see any evidence that they will. Thus far, First Daughter Ivanka Trump and her husband Jared Kushner, as well as their White House allies, chief economic advisor Gary Cohn, Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin and Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, have not advocated as loudly or strongly in favour of their more sensible positions as have Bannon and his allies for the xenophobic policies that they support.

During his first five months in office, President Trump has demonstrated through his countless Twitter storms that he can be swayed by strong emotions. Most recently, he responded to the attacks on London Bridge by tweeting: “The Justice Dept should have stayed with the original Travel Ban, not the watered down, politically correct version they submitted to SC.” That’s right: President Trump used the attack as the pretext for defending the first executive order he signed to ban visitors from Muslim countries, which was written by Stephen Miller, his senior advisor for policy and Bannon’s closest ally.

Two months ago I stated my belief that Bannon and company’s power and influence within the Trump Administration had peaked, because they were being blamed for the judicial failures of Trump’s Muslim immigration bans. I now recognise that this was wishful thinking on my part. It is clear to me that Trump’s actions are being driven by Bannon’s arguments that Trump must continue to promote the nationalistic and populist policies that appeal to his conservative base if he wants to win a second term.

While I understand betting on appealing to your conservative core instead of broadening your base of support, I still don’t see how pulling out of the Paris Accord does anything to solidify Trump’s base. A recent Yale University poll showed that 47 per cent of those who voted for Trump supported remaining in the Paris Agreement while just 28 per cent were in favour of withdrawing from it. Unless Bannon and his cronies know something I don’t, I have a hard time believing that this move will drive more of Trump’s fervent supporters to the polls.

Bannon’s plan to win re-election is centred on his belief that if Trump fulfils his campaign promises, then the same disaffected blue-collar voters who helped him win narrow victories in Michigan, Wisconsin and Pennsylvania will turn out again in 2020. This approach also assumes that Trump and Congress will succeed in repealing and replacing Obamacare and lowering taxes. But if Congressional Republicans are unable to muster the 50 senate votes they need in favour of Trumpcare or tax reform, then Trump will also need to shift the blame for not doing so to Congressional Democrats.

Yet with Congress’s annual summer recess only weeks away, the problem isn’t actually Democrat opposition to Republican legislative proposals, but rather the lack of agreement among both House and Senate Republicans about proposed healthcare and tax law changes. Senate Republicans will not agree to the phasing out of increases in Medicaid funding and not providing coverage for people with pre-existing conditions. There is also no support for the House proposal to raise new tax revenues to offset corporate and personal income tax cuts with a new border adjustment tax on imported goods.

To further complicate matters, because Americans are paying their taxes more slowly than government projections, the Trump Administration also wants Congress to raise the debt ceiling before they return home for the summer. But since diehard conservatives always vote against raising the debt ceiling, Republican leaders in Congress will also have to strike a deal with Democrats so the federal government doesn’t run out of money and have to shut down or default on paying its bills. So it’s no wonder some Republicans in Congress have become increasing nervous about their re-election chances.

Against this backdrop of legislative incapacitation, Congressional Republicans not only have to explain why they can’t pass healthcare, tax and infrastructure legislation, but they must also defend President Trump’s chaotic White House and his decision to fire FBI Director James Comey. 

During his Senate testimony last week, Comey said the president lied about why he had fired him, when he claimed that the FBI was in disarray and poorly led, that the workforce had lost confidence in its leader. “Those were lies, plain and simple,” said Comey. The irony here is that by asking Comey to drop the Michael Flynn investigation in order to remove the cloud over his administration, President Trump only created a bigger one.

Charles Laffiteau is a US Republican from Dallas, Texas pursuing a career in public service. He previously lectured on Contemporary US Business & Society at DCU from 2009-2011 and pursued a PhD in Public Policy and Political Economy.
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