The Expendables: Donald Trump versus the US Congress

Donald Trump is increasingly expendable to the Republicans in Congress. Assuming the tax plan is signed into law, Trump will be increasingly expendable and a liability to Congress as they head into the 2018 midterm elections and beyond. Simply put: With the passage of the tax and the increased problems the Mueller investigation will pose to Trump and the Republicans, the latter will have less and less need for the former while finding him more and more an electoral problem.

Few if any see the connection between the tax overhaul and the fate of Donald Trump with the GOP Congress. Yet if there is anything the Republican Congress wanted more than anything else was the tax cuts and overhaul. Since Reagan the issue that has defined the party has been tax cuts. It is the answer to everything. If the economy is doing badly cut taxes. If the economy is doing well and the government is taking in too much money, cut taxes. If we need to produce more jobs, cut taxes. If there is tax cheating by businesses hoarding money in off-shore accounts, cut taxes. Cutting taxes is like the classic cure-all nostrums sold by traveling salesmen in the 19th century. One bottle will cure anything that ails you. Preaching tax cuts for all social ills is what the Elmer Gantrys of the GOP have preached for years.

Yes a few Republicans talked once of fiscal restraint and worried about deficits. Yet those old Concord Coalition folks are gone. So many seem shocked–shocked as Captain Renault was in Casablanca–that the likes of Susan Collins and John McCain would support this tax cut bill even though its regressive nature and impact will be to hurt the very people Trump and Republicans say they want to help. Neither Collins not McCain were progressives; they are Republicans defined by tax cuts über alles. With this tax plan the Republicans get so much of what they have wanted for the last quarter century.

Depending on the version that finally passes, the Obama health mandate is gone, the estate tax is effectively gone, corporations pay less taxes and the rich pay less taxes. In addition, the doubling of the standard deduction will help some but hurt non-profits, the poor will not be able to take advantage of the child care tax credit, the loss of medical deductions will do more to push many into debt, and the loss of the deductions for state and local taxes will penalize Democratic high tax and social welfare states such as Minnesota. One should not infer that the GOP plan is intentionally cruel but its regressive nature to help the rich will have this impact. Further, since there was concern that the tax cuts will not live up to the mythical trickle down magic, there are requirements to make further cuts to balance the budget in the future–this will pressure cuts in Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid. All of this is reminiscent of what David Stockman talked about in terms of the logic of the Reagan tax cuts back in the 80s–blown up the budget with large deficits into to pressure cuts to the welfare state.

Assuming the GOP gets all of this, they have gotten most of their agenda and what they want from Trump. Of course this is a big if. The outcome of an Alabama Senate election, the fate of Al Franken, and the ability of the House and Senate to reach agreement with one another and Trump might still wreck all this. But assume not...what value is there in keeping Trump around? His agenda is largely over with the tax plan. There will be no wall, there will be no major infrastructure package, and abandoning NAFTA and the other trade agreements are either superfluous, icing on the cake, or something the Republicans do not really care about. For most Republicans, the Trump presidency largely ends with his signature on the tax plan.

It will not be too much to assume that with Michael Flynn cooperating with Mueller, Jared Kushner, Donald Trump, Jr., or Jeff Sessions might not be next. How they too might implicate the president if at all is only a question of time. But if polls suggest that Trump is already a problem for the GOP into 2018, he will become more so next year as more indictments and trials mount. One can also speculate on whether the swirling sexual harassment controversies will finally ensnare the president next year. If all that happens, the Congressional Republicans might be better off without him than with.

No this does not mean he will be impeached by Republicans. This is still a Democratic Party fantasy. Nor should the Democrats count on an unpopular president guaranteeing their path back to power. Yet if Trump has already succeeded in getting the congressional Republicans most of what they want, the president will become expendable to them in 2018 and beyond.

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