President Trump is leading; the question is where. The answer: to the left because in our system, dominated by two Parties, it appears that will be the only alternative to Trump.
Trump began his political odyssey intuitively. He sensed that many in America felt left behind whether by disruptive forces or Washington interests that outweighed theirs, or a combination of both. He ran against Washington and used two emotional triggers: immigration and trade (a proxy for globalization). His tirades told his supporters that he was ready to shake things up—that he was indeed not just another politician.
Arriving in Washington with virtually no institutional support, he proceeded to trash its institutions and those that led them. Trump didn’t merely thrust and parry, he thrust daily and mainly in derogatory terms. When you dump on those you share power with, count on ultimately becoming the master of the outhouse, not the White House. Tellingly, former New Jersey Governor, Chris Christie, his first transition head, said the President peopled his administration with riffraff. I will quickly add that several were not.
In the meantime, his ceaseless and antagonistic conduct made enemies of everybody but those who were predisposed to wear MAGA hats. His largest support group – evangelicals – got what they wanted: right of center Supreme Court justices and many now are ready to move on because they find him personally offensive.
Trump, as earlier noted, recognized the voter anger but lacked coherent thinking about what government might do to relieve their unjust burdens. Absent as well was a governing style that could attract gifted thinkers and implementers who are always needed to help turn a slogan into a program. Replace Obamacare, with what?
Now, as Trump begins his second term, he has turned the gun on himself. He has made himself a lame duck, as most do not think he will be reelected. He has transformed the Mueller probe from what could have plausibly been sold as partisan into what will be the most pivotal and objective moment of his last two years. Also his unpopularity weighed on the midterm elections and having lost the House, he is now a participant in the Donald and Nancy show. I am betting on Nancy as she is a more astute politician.
It has also been evident for some time that Trump sees himself as a character in a video game that plays out on cable TV news shows (so-called). He watches the antagonists and Trumpsters. The antagonists provoke him, he fires back, and then rather than being President, he becomes one of them. But, to show them he has real power, he closes the government. Score one for the antagonists. Of course when he is forced to be presidential, the leading Trumpsters turn on him. Washington is a lonely place; the only sympathy will come from the sycophants.
Against this backdrop there are still only a handful of Republican leaders who seem to understand the Party’s jeopardy and might be willing to challenge him for the nomination.
I have twice voted for Governor Larry Hogan, Maryland’s Republican Governor, but neither time did I anticipate his potential to become President. But, being originally from Missouri, I recall fondly told stories of Harry Truman being misjudged by the Eastern Elite and in the parlance of the State, “showing them.” Historians honor the 33rd President as one of the best.
The Republican Party is in urgent need of a reboot. Who might return it to a center-right Party with coherent, workable and saleable programs? The 2020 election will once again turn on those who have been left behind or sense they are on the edge of losing their way. The President, lacking curiosity, an agile mind, and burdened with an inept team of advisors, will not reclaim the opportunity he first seized.
Governor Larry Hogan has both earned support across partisan lines and has a disarming persona. Plus, the first two primary States, Iowa and New Hampshire, are receptive to candidates who think and act outside their Party’s dogmatic box. A boomlet anyone?
Al Sikes is the former Chair of the Federal Communications Commission under George H.W. Bush. Al recently published Culture Leads Leaders Follow published by Koehler Books.