One month later, Time magazine ran a cover story calling Clinton the “Incredible Shrinking President.” One of his more experienced advisers,
Can President Trump do the same? Clearly it is possible that he could end up more like Herbert Hoover or Jimmy Carter, meaning that the problems he is experiencing will not go away and that he will be a one-term president — at most.
With a major scandal looming over the White House involving possible collusion between his campaign and Russia, the possibilities for this presidency to spin out of control remain very real.
An emboldened House Freedom Caucus and Democratic minority, is not going to make things any easier for this President, and it seems that the investigation into Russia-gate is about to ramp up. Constituents opposed to Trump, who have a taste of victory after protesting Republican town hall meetings, will have that much more determination to take on the rest of his agenda.
But his opponents should also be cognizant that Trump does have the ability to rebound. The Russia scandal could easily turn out to be more like Iran-Contra, where an explosive and devastating investigation never quite reaches the president himself and where the targets of the investigation are able to frame the issue as being about overly partisan inquisitors undermining national security.
Democrats might also conclude that any attempt to remove Trump from office through impeachment would be self-defeating, since Vice President Mike Pence is very conservative and is more likely to work well with the Freedom Caucus on policies the left would strongly oppose.
If Trump can get his act together, he could push for legislation, such as some kind of bold infrastructure plan, that would make it much more difficult for all Democrats and non-Freedom Caucus Republicans to oppose.
This would create the potential for a bipartisan victory, remaking himself into an independent and breaking through some of the partisan alliances that have thus far held firm. Trump, whose tweets this week went after the Freedom Caucus, has the potential to weaken the group, a key source of obstruction in Congress since 2010, and that could appeal to Democrats.
A crafty Trump could do this while continuing to move forward with his very aggressive deregulatory agenda, combined with a Reaganesque supply side tax cut, that keeps Republicans as a whole happy with having him in the White House. This would be a one-two punch that would quickly put Democrats on the defensive.
Trump, who is still doing well in polling with Republicans
, can continue to offer his base of supporters red meat with renewed attacks on illegal immigrants and a push for “law and order” in the cities. The conservative part of his populism has been a big selling point and he has proven to have the capacity to play to the darkest elements of the right wing.
Trump can still, in the words of Steve Bannon, “deconstruct the administrative state.” It’s untrue that Obamacare will “explode” on its own, but Secretary of Health and Human Services Tom Price can do enormous damage to this fragile program, making it less effective and less appealing in the coming years. For instance, he could lower the cost-sharing subsidies that insurers have relied on, a step which would create instability in markets.
Trump can slowly build a stronger coalition for change by making the Affordable Care Act seem worse to most voters.
As Steve Rattner wrote
, “if the effectiveness of the A.C.A is diminished . . . Rest assured that the Republicans will try to blame Obamacare’s supporters.”
This is really an “it can go either way” moment for Trump. His next step is crucial. The problems he faces are very real, while the progress that he has made on certain issues and the potential to break through the current challenges are equally significant.
Part of the answer to the story will rest, not so much with Trump, but with what his opponents do in the coming months and whether they are able to capitalize on the vulnerabilities and instabilities that have been exposed in the White House as a result of the ACA fiasco.
His opponents should be aware, however, that just as big loss in politics sets the groundwork for more losses by allowing opponents to see all your vulnerability, one big win can create the political momentum that gives presidents a chance to move on with other issues and even win re-election.