Well, Donald Trump has read – or more likely “skimmed” – Peter Baker’s latest in The New York Times and the President isn’t enamored with it.
Baker’s piece is called “Promise The Moon? Easy For Trump. But Now Comes The Reckoning” and it underscores the extent to which this was all a charade built on hyperbole, absurd promises, and shameless populist pandering.
Trump exploited the fears of uneducated Americans and played on the notion of lost American “greatness” on the way to convincing large swaths of the electorate to vote against their own self interests. As we wrote several days ago, rural America is becoming disillusioned as it slowly (but surely) dawns on them that billionaire narcissists don’t just become populist champions overnight.
Meanwhile, Trump continues to fleece low income Americans out of what little money they do have by soliciting donations he claims will “make America great again” but which, in reality, will be funneled to the RNC to help push an agenda that includes tax cuts for the wealthy and also diverted to help pay for Trump’s legal defense in the Russia probe. That is not speculation. It is fact. You can read all about it here.
And that’s where the above-mentioned piece from Baker comes in. The thrust of his piece is that Trump hasn’t delivered on his bombastic campaign promises. Here’s the Times:
President Trump leaves little doubt about what he thinks of his predecessor’s top domestic and international legacies. The health care program enacted by President Barack Obama is “outrageous” and “absolutely destroying everything in its wake.” The nuclear deal with Iran is “one of the worst and most one-sided transactions the United States has ever entered into.”
Yet as much as he has set his sights on them, Mr. Trump after nearly nine months in office has not actually gotten rid of either. Instead, in the past few days, he took partial steps to undercut both initiatives and then left it to Congress to figure out what to do next.
These are not the only instances in which Mr. Trump’s expansive language has not been matched by his actions during this opening phase of his presidency. On immigration, diplomatic relations with Cuba and international accords like the North American Free Trade Agreement and a separate trade pact with South Korea, he has denounced decisions made by Mr. Obama or other previous presidents without fully reversing them.
To be sure, Baker includes some scathing quotes from other people. Including this one from Jacob Heilbrunn, editor of The National Interest:
It’s classic Trump: bluff and bombast substituting for actual deeds. He’s the political equivalent of the Washington Nationals — a choke artist at critical moments.
But really, the article isn’t all that bad, and certainly not when compared to the dozens of others floating around out there on Sunday. But Trump chose this one. Here he is:
Why target a relatively tame piece that, for the most part, just states facts?
One explanation is that it’s just the first thing Trump read today after taking in his morning dose of Fox.
Another, more interesting explanation is that Baker’s piece underscores the idea that Trump’s campaign was built on promises that were so far-fetched as to be laughable to serious people. Now, his base is beginning to discover what everyone else knew from the beginning. Here’s another quote from the piece:
A question for the president is whether partial actions will satisfy supporters demanding a full repudiation of the Obama era.
But the real kick in the balls for Trump may have been the last paragraph, which is actually a quote from Clifford Kupchan, chairman of the Eurasia Group. It reads as follows:
There is now a new and scary spring in his step. He could be entering a new phase involving fuller takedowns of agreements and institutions. The Iran deal and Nafta are bellwether cases. What’s really interesting is that he fired his chief revolutionary, Steve Bannon, but seems on the verge of taking on that role himself.
No recall what we said just five days ago:
Trump is also said to be extremely insecure about “Big Luther’s” loss in Alabama (which, don’t forget, was in part due to Steve Bannon’s efforts to undercut Trump’s endorsement).
And see that gets at another problem for Trump: what to do with Steve Bannon. He’s now recruiting challengers for GOP incumbents in an effort to further his quest to effectively implement the very populist revolution that Trump promised on the campaign trail. Although Bannon hasn’t yet said this explicitly, what he’s bound to do is say something like this: “vote for my candidates, they’ll do what Trump couldn’t get done.”
Bannon endorsed Trump again on Saturday in a speech at the Values Voter Summit in Washington, but you’ll recall that the endorsement came with an implicit caveat. Here’s what Bannon said:
The populist, nationalist, conservative revolt that’s going on, that drove Donald Trump to victory, that drove Judge [Roy] Moore to victory, that will drive 15 candidates to victory in 2018, and I hate to break it Graydon Carter and the good folks at Vanity Fair, but yes, President Trump is not only going to finish this term, he’s going to win with 400 electoral votes in 2020.
See what’s tacit there? Bannon is reminding Trump that what got him elected is the same thing that propelled Moore to victory in Alabama despite Trump’s endorsement of the opposing candidate, Luther Strange. Bannon is effectively giving Trump another chance to get back on board with that agenda and doing so means getting aggressive when it comes to using any and all means available to implement the campaign promises that The New York Times correctly notes Trump is not fulfilling.
We’ve said it before and we’ll say it again: Trump is going to have to choose between compromise with the Democrats and leaning in the direction of mainstream Republicans on one hand and sticking to the Steve Bannon agenda on the other. Each carries risks.