“Trump identified the right problem too early,” according to “Geopolitical Futures” analyst George Friedman in an article entitled, “Trump’s Dilemma: President Donald Trump’s Ability to Make Changes Depends On Whether His Support Rises Or Falls.”
According to Friedman, Trump identified the key issue and gathered a coalition to get himself elected, but just barely. He did better than Barry Goldwater in 1964 who was trounced by Lyndon Johnson. Goldwater’s platform was very similar to that of Ronald Reagan, who won the presidency 16 years later. Goldwater was just ahead of his time.
This is the problem President Trump has in being the transformative leader he wants to be. He won because he understood clearly the deep concerns of the coalition that elected him. Writing executive orders makes him appear to be keeping his promises, but the reality is that those orders don’t mean much unless Congress changes laws.
The two transformative presidents of the last 84 years were Franklin D. Roosevelt and Ronald Reagan. Roosevelt got 60 percent of the vote against Herbert Hoover and Reagan got 50 percent to Jimmy Carter’s 41 percent. Both presidents swept most of the states in the Electoral College while Trump barely won by a few thousand votes.
He actually lost the popular vote by 48 percent to 46 percent.
Roosevelt was elected in 1932 during the Great Depression. Millions who had worked hard all their lives still lost their jobs and their homes, and their families were in danger of starving to death. FDR removed the blame for individual failure from their shoulders and placed it on the system. His supporters took hope and strongly supported the social changes he advocated, even in spite of fierce resistance from conservatives.
Reagan had a similar appeal. America was caught in a period of both stagnation and inflation. The nation was reeling in shame from its loss in Vietnam and the increasing relative power of the Soviet Union. Reagan promised them hope and a renewed sense of pride and confidence in their nation and in themselves.
Liberals fiercely opposed him but, due to his popularity, he was able to push his agenda through Congress.
Trump understands, according to Friedman: “The core issue in the U.S. now is the decline of the middle and lower-middle classes’ purchasing power. The lower-middle class is priced out of homeownership.” But the middle class can still afford to purchase homes. That’s why Trump was too early. The problem has not yet gotten bad enough to give him the support he needs to push his agenda through Congress.
Members of Congress look at Trump’s numbers and consider whether to support his agenda. Their chief concern is to get re-elected in two years. If they support Trump they have to consider whether doing so will help or hurt them in 2018. At this point they are not sure. According to Friedman, “The problem that Trump has is that without early victories, later ones will be much harder to come by. Weakness begets weakness.”
Trump’s early defeat over the repeal and replacement of Obamacare in the House is his dilemma. Unless Trump can build momentum, it will be much harder to push through other parts of his domestic agenda.
This same dilemma is true in the international sphere. If Trump appears weak and ineffective in the domestic arena – and his poll numbers are low and weakening (currently dropping from 40 to 36 percent) – it will be more difficult to bring about change overseas.
Right now the leaders of nations aren’t sure what Trump’s foreign policy will be. They’re trying to decide whether he is as tough as he sounds, or whether he is really a paper tiger. Being uncertain works to Trump’s advantage in the early stages, but unless he acts forcefully and wisely soon, the rest of the world will decide to hedge its bets and plan for other contingencies, forming new alliances and becoming more self-sufficient and less dependent on the United States to come to their aid.
President Trump’s problem is that he really does not understand how our government works and, as a result, he is fumbling his early chances to be a successful transformative president. The longer he and his administration appear weak and ineffective, the more difficult the hill will be to climb. Trump defined the right problem early, but his lack of popular support from his close win could doom his presidency. Time is running out.