A few comments in response to Charles Lipson regarding Donald Trump


Professor Charles Lipson published a good article entitled What Happens After the Electoral Earthquake?.

I have a few disagreements with it, however.

Prof. Lipson assumes that the published position papers, policy speeches and the content of the stadium speeches Trump has been giving for months are irrelevant. This is incorrect. Contrary to what everybody says, Trump has been comparatively specific about what his policy positions are. The best-founded prediction is that Trump will try to do what he repeatedly and firmly said he would do in all the various policy areas.

Prof Lipson says: “… Republicans couldn’t simply say they would repeal Obamacare. They had to promise to replace it with some kind of health-care policy, probably one featuring nationwide insurance markets, health-care savings accounts, medical liability limits, and subsidies for the sick and poor.”

This is exactly what Trump ran on. Universal health care with a large competitive market component. This is actually the optimum position under current circumstances. Trump’s position on this was published early, and it is a top-line blueprint for what he will try to get through Congress, with elbow room for negotiation.

Prof Lipson says: “… expect China and Iran and perhaps Russia to test the administration during its final months in office. Obama is seen as weak, and nobody has a clue what Trump’s foreign policy will look like, beyond trade protection.  America’s adversaries will see a chance to push hard.”

Sadly, this is probably true. Trump will have a chance to be presidential by being supportive, within reason, of the President in the meantime.

Prof Lipson says: “…the president’s thorniest remaining decision may be whether to proactively pardon the Clintons and their aides. They will want it — but he will be reluctant to stain his legacy and be indelibly associated with the Clintons’ cauldron of corruption.”

If I had to bet I’d say Obama will not provide pardons. What is in it for him? Barack Obama is a Chicago politician before he is anything else. This is the key to understanding him, an under-appreciated fact. A key axiom of Chicago politics, from the late Richard J. Daley himself, is “don’t back no losers.” HRC is now a loser. Also, we hear the Clintons and Obamas hate each other, but Obama will make a political calculation, not act on animus. Most importantly, Obama has a stake in the future, see below, and distancing himself from the Clintons is in his long term interest. Nonetheless, he will be under a lot of pressure to protect the Clintons. Stand by for leaked news of backstage drama.

Prof. Lipson asks: “What happens to the Democratic Party?” and predicts “It blows up and the party’s left-wing picks up the pieces … the mantle will likely fall to Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders … ”

No. The mantle will fall on Michelle Obama. The Clinton model will be re-introduced. The Obamas will create an entity to raise money and build up Michelle as a future presidential candidate, and tens of millions of dollars will come their way to ensure access in the future. This will be the Chicago Way on a grand scale, and done with better legal advice than the Clinton operation, and it will be totally legal. The game plan will Michelle takes Durbin’s Senate seat while Durbin unseats Rauner in 2018. Michelle is then built up as a presidential candidate, with a head fake for 2020, and her availability if Trump is falling apart, but probably really for 2024 or even 2028. She was born in 1964, and barring severe bad health, will be viable and able to raise money for all that time. During these years anyone who wants to have access to an eventual Obama restoration will have to be a steady, reliable contributor to the Obama entity. It will give Barack a vehicle to travel the world, and the country, where he is popular and build up the brand. The Democrat future is with an Obama dynasty, if they want it, not Warren or Sanders or anyone else.

Prof. Lipson asks: “What happens to the Republican Party?” His answer: “It now belongs to Donald Trump — not Ted Cruz, John Kasich, Rand Paul, or, Lord knows, the Bushes. Since so few of the party’s heavyweights supported Trump, it really is his alone. The second biggest player will be Paul Ryan in the House.”

This is true for the moment, but I see it playing out differently. Trump is not a party animal, the way Richard Nixon and Lyndon Johnson were. They rose to power despite not being likable because they built unassailable bases within the party, and had the personal loyalty of hundreds of important people. Trump has none of that. You cannot create something like that on the fly. Trump will be too busy with the presidency to build up a Trump following in the GOP. Reince Priebus or his successor will go about the usual business of recruiting electable people and promoting the brand. Self-appointed Republican leaders will emerge. There is a large cohort of governors, senators and congressmen who will be jostling to be the future of the GOP. Expect to hear more from Scott Walker, Rand Paul, Marco Rubio, Mike Lee, Ted Cruz, among many others. Further, actual “Trumpism”, as it is eventually realized in practice, will be driven mainly by events, as most presidencies are. Others will participate in shaping those actions in response to events, and share in the kudos of any success. The Democrats have to build up their bench, the GOP enjoys an efflorescence of rising talent.

Prof. Lipson says: “Expect Trump to push tough policies on immigration and trade, but expect great uncertainty beyond that. “Make America Great Again” is about as vacuous – and subjective — as “Change You Can Believe In.” No one knows what “great” means, just as no one knew what “hope and change” meant.”

On this I disagree. Trump has run a content-heavy race. For example, Clinton’s proposed plans were not any more detailed. Trump offers a standard-issue Kemp-Reagan supply side program, right within the mainstream of GOP thinking. Trump on healthcare is similar, basically a conservative think tank consensus position. In fact, Trump’s position papers can pretty easily be reconciled with the GOP platform, and turned into a dozen or so actionable items of legislation and passed in a few months. If you want to know what Trump will actually do, or try to do, it is worth spending an hour or so reading the papers on his website. Everyone has a pre-loaded mental model that Trump is vacuous. But he is less so than many candidates we think of as serious.

Prof. Lipson says: “Within the Republican Party, the fight is joined over the appointees to fill the Trump administration and what kinds of policies will fill in details of the candidate’s broad outlines. In the Senate, Jeff Sessions will play a much bigger role, unless he’s tapped to head the Department of Justice or Homeland Security.”

Personnel is policy. Appointees will be critical. There will be some that are not a surprise — Sessions, Giuliani, Christie (if his legal travails don’t sink him), maybe Gingrich, Gen. Flynn (probably) — and we will also likely see some curve balls. The maneuvering will be intense, and information about who is up and who is down will be leaking out in the weeks ahead. The idea that no one will work with Trump because he is such an awful, awful person is balderdash. Ambitious people will take jobs that are offered and choke down any such qualms.

Prof. Lipson says: “In the House, Speaker Paul Ryan will have to work more closely with the Freedom Caucus”

Trump is going to be much more focused on good relations and ongoing dialogue with Congress, including the Democrats. Most likely, Trump will be meeting with Ryan and McConnell and they will put together an ambitious 100 days legislative package, based on Trump’s proposed Contract with the American Voter.

If Prof. Lipson wants to look like a genius-prophet to his readers, he should do what too few people have done: Read Trump’s papers and predict that bills will be introduced to do X, Y and Z. Astonished readers will say, “Professor Lipson, how did you know?” He can claim his methods are proprietary.

Prof. Lipson concludes: “The motto for the next few months comes from Bette Davis: “Fasten your seatbelts, it’s going to be a bumpy night!”  Actually, many nights.”

I disagree, based more on my gut more than on tangible evidence. The surprise will be that the Trump administration will run smoothly and efficiently, with frequent consultations with Congress, delegation of day to day activities to competent subordinates, and surprisingly few fireworks. This will be reassuring to citizens and to markets. Trump will follow a Reagan-Eisenhower model, with a personal focus on a few critical matters at any one time.

A further prediction, the ceremonial and ritual aspects of the presidency, which Obama was not comfortable with, but which shape perceptions and provide the president with gravitas and hence bargaining leverage, will be well-executed, with pomp and taste and panache, because Ivanka Trump will not permit it to be any other way!

As an addendum, a liberal friend wrote to me with her many concerns about the upcoming Trump presidency. I responded:

Trump will be like Eisenhower, a centrist nationalist, strong on defense but avoiding foreign wars, infrastructure investment, close engagement with Congress, probably weekly senior personnel meetings and many one-on-ones, unlike Obama who was a solo act and not good at schmoozing, the president will focus on 2-3 issues at a time with a lot of delegation. I predict the ceremonial elements of the presidency will be very important to him and his family, and will be executed with taste. External events, terrorism, war and market crises, will dominate the next four years, and Trump’s performance in response will define him and his administration.

God bless America.

18 thoughts on “A few comments in response to Charles Lipson regarding Donald Trump”

  1. This guy misses the point. More of the same false presumption that Trump is a chaotic mess and the presidency will be a shamble. Has no one learned anything in 18 months? The guy is such a mess he just got elected PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES the first time ever ran for anything. D’oh. Trust me on this folks, he is a fast learner. Fast learner. 100%.

  2. I don’t care if he’s a total one-term train wreck. This election was about who controls the Supreme Court for the next twenty years.

  3. I tend to agree with Lex. Trump has made hundreds of millions negotiating and dealing with unions and politicians equally difficult with Putin.

    The Europeans provoked Russia by adding NATO members right up to Russia’s borders while neglecting their own defense responsibilities. NATO is a hollow shell that is a constant irritant to Putin. Hillary would provoke him more with bluff.

    Trump will probably settle things down as he rebuilds the US military which has just cancelled the ammunition for its new $300 million ship because the shells are too expensive. This is the F 35 fiasco squared.

    Calling the Obama military “hollow” is a joke. He has fired every senior officer with a pulse and the middle ranks are devastated by a policy that reduces mid-level officers and replaces them with new E-1 recruits to save salary expense.

    There is no “big stick” to carry. Obama believes in bluster and weakness, a bad combination.

  4. Lexington Green is 100% correct.

    A political novice was nominated for, and elected to, the highest political office in the land. He had to have made some brilliant personnel moves and listened to the exactly right people.

    I am hoping he will be a great President.

  5. Pence was a big asset during the campaign by securing the big conservative donors. He’ll be an even more important go-between with Congress. Picking him for VP now looks like a brilliant move.

    The future of the Democrat Party is in the big cities. It’s the only place they have support and the only place where they can exercise any power. Warren and Sanders don’t fit into that. All these protests are really about telling the party who is in charge now.

  6. I think you chaps have moved too quickly onto Trump’s story. You should enjoy a few more days exulting at the Clintons’ story.

  7. He’ll be an even more important go-between with Congress. Picking him for VP now looks like a brilliant move.

    You’re right. Cruz would be no help there. The Court is probably the place for Cruz. Not the first appointment. I’d still like to see Janice Rogers Brown on there at last.

    All these protests are really about telling the party who is in charge now.

    Maybe but Soros had spent a lot on them and I still don’t understand his motives. Was he going to short the dollar ? Last sting of the dying adder ?

  8. Letter in this morning’s Tel:

    Will President-elect Trump receive the Nobel Peace Prize immediately he takes office or will he have to wait 11 days, as President Obama did?

  9. We know Soros made a lot of news shorting the stock market over the summer, but that has probably changed by now if it even was the case. Guys like Soros will say one thing in public then do something different in practice. They’re always hedged and will short their own mother if it’s in their best financial interest.

  10. Britain may have some serious interest in an Anglosphere trade union.

    This could be a counter weight to China.

    Nafta looks set to be reformed or scrapped after Mr Trump repeatedly attacked it during the US presidential campaign.

    This week Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said he was willing to renegotiate Nafta once Mr Trump becomes president in the new year.

    Mr Gingrich, when he was Speaker of the House of Representatives, raised the idea in April 1998 and it was backed by Margaret Thatcher and Right-wing Eurosceptics in Britain, but condemned by the Labour government.

  11. I am also hopeful that Trump has some real qualities to get things moving and in the right direction. Certainly his actions in the first week after the election are encouraging. There is still the chance that his numerous harmful and or inconsistent campaign messages shows that he doesn’t. The last several weeks showed me great improvement and focus. His down-the-stretch focus and targeted strategy was impressive and in my mind decisive and form the basis of my optimism for his performance in office.

    His cabinet picks and actual priorities in the first 100 days will probably tell the tale. If he allows the “deal” to take priority over the substance, I’ll become much more skeptical of any real effect he will have on the major issues. Keep calm and wait for it.


  12. I don’t know what the Pence for Christie substitution means. Maybe Christie wants DoJ.

    A lot will be the people he chooses. I’m OK with Priebus as chief of staff. I hear opposition to Bolton at State. Does Gingrich want it ?

    It will be an interesting two months.

  13. Interesting theory on Michelle Obama’s potential political career. However I’d also keep a keen eye on California’s newly elected Senator, Kamala Harris, as a potential Presidential candidate in four years.

  14. Trump’s strong support in the Midwest took everyone by surprise, including him. I think Christie was originally slated to head the transition before election day, but afterwards a lot of those assumptions were thrown out the window. Pence being from Indiana is better able to shape the Executive Office to maximize the election momentum and turn it into a real coalition.

    During the campaign Pence was billed as some sort of calming counterpoint to Trump’s bombast and not much else. The general consensus was that he didn’t provide a geographic advantage because the election was seen through the prism of the last several elections. How wrong that was. He delivered in a big way counties long thought lost to the GOP.

  15. California’s newly elected Senator, Kamala Harris, as a potential Presidential candidate in four years.

    She is a female Obama. Half black and free of all accomplishments.

    That is what she was groomed for.

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