This last Tuesday, President Trump delivered his highly anticipated State of the Union Address. He surprised many by striking a largely bipartisan, almost conciliatory tone. He promised to revisit major trade deals, assist the dreamers while increasing border security, and address our degrading infrastructure.
Excuse me if I decide not to hold my breath as we wait.
My pessimism is only partially driven by my ever-deepening political malaise. There’s a lot going against the President here. The GOP majority in the Senate is fairly weak; the Democrats could credibly impede legislative progress through the threat of a filibuster. There’s also dissent among the rank-and-file on many of the issues he mentioned such as immigration, infrastructure, and the opioid crises. (Indeed, it’s this ideological disharmony that sank Congress’ attempts at repealing the ACA last year). The fact that it’s an election year also doesn’t help.
But the biggest barrier the President has had with accomplishing his goals hasn’t been a Democratic obstruction or Republican disharmony. It’s been himself. And I’m not talking about all of the time that the leadership has to justify and frame his bombastic, polemical tweets (although that certainly doesn’t help). I’m instead referring to his apparent inability to be consistent in his positions.
If one looks closely at President Trump’s statements and positions, you’ll find that they tend to be all over the place. Those that have displayed consistency tend only to do so in a broad sense. Once you get down to the brass tacks he becomes inconsistent with the specific concessions that he asks for. And that’s problematic if he wants to get things done. Congress has to write their legislation with the President in mind. After all, they require his signature if they want something to be codified into law– especially because most bills aren’t going to carry the necessary support to override his veto. What he wants matters when crafting legislation. So it is difficult to craft legislation when he inconsistently signals what those wants are.
The president outlined some big goals. If he wants to accomplish them, the first step has got to be getting out of his own way.