Can the Republicans Sustain the Bluster?
Gilbert N. Kahn is a professor of Political Science at Kean University.
The Trump Administration has been in office for almost four months. It is remarkable how much news media time has been wasted and focused on non-policy issues. All new Administrations begin with time spent on side issues such as decorations furnishings, fetishes, and family issues. In this Administration, more time and energy has been spent on ethics questions, government funds spent on family travel, and unrelated activities. Actual policy discussions are pedestrian and fluffy. Access to those who are even influencing the president and his staff are even now unavailable as White House visitor lists are also unavailable.
The Trump team may well be spending 60 hour weeks working on substance but the only things the public sees is showmanship, grandstanding, and golf. It is no wonder, therefore, that President Trump appears to be a bit leery about his first foreign trip later in May. He and his staff may not be able to control all the scrutiny and attention that other Governments may well need and want for their own leaders. This could well come at the expensive of Trump’s enormous need for attention and adoration.
The excitement with which the Trump Administration handled the House’s passage of its version of the Obamacare “repeal and replace” bill made it appear that we were witnessing a bill signing ceremony. Much water will pass over the dam before Trumpcare or some version thereof might become law. A more modest event might have been more appropriate; yet so few legitimate legislative achievements have occurred that the President made an extravagance out of modest progress. (The White House love affair papered over much of the internecine rivalry which had been evident during the House negotiations.)
In addition to watching what, whether, or if Congress will actually enact an Obamacare overturn bill, the ultimate decision on all the activity in Washington will not be on healthcare, tax reform, or infrastructure rebuilding but on elections. In addition to the backlash which many GOP House Members are again hearing this week from their constituencies, the Democrats are finding candidates prepared to challenge Republicans in 2018 even in traditionally safe Republican seats.
The first signs–but not necessarily in any way decisive ones– could come already in the special elections in Montana in late May and in Georgia in late June. The Montana House seat had been held by the new Secretary of Interior, Ryan Zinke, in a state which Trump carried by 21% in November. It is now being seriously contested by a Democrat, Rob Quist, who is currently leading his Republican opponent, Greg Gianforte, by 6% according to Democratic poll.
Meanwhile, early voting will begin on May 30 for the June 20 run-off election in Georgia’s 6th District where Democrat Jon Ossoff nearly won (48.1%) the seat outright against 18 opponents in April. Ossoff now faces Republican Karen Handel who received the second largest vote (19.8%). The most expensive House race in history has already seen $29.7 million spent on television ads alone as of May 7.
The seat had been held by Trump’s new HHS Secretary Tom Price. As a result of the House’s action last week, Ossoff may get a boost given Price’s leading opposition to Obamacare and his championing the new healthcare proposal or it may also help to defeat Ossoff. Alternatively, it may be the first sign of a Trumpcare liability heading into 2018.