How to be an independent

Donald Trump is, effectively, an independent president. donald-trumpHe has no roots in the Republican Party, and no sympathy with its vision or policies. There are numerous ways to be an independent.

Your columnist would favour a grand bargain in which the president persuaded Democrats to abandon everything they want on the economy and Republicans to abandon their social agenda. The nightmare scenario, of course, is the diametric opposite of this: Democratic economic policy and Republican social policy. Either extreme example is improbable, but in which direction might this administration lean?

Certainly, the idea of Trump betraying the Republicans on social policy is credible. Trump doesn’t care about these issues and adopted his positions purely to run for president. He has already backed down on equal marriage, calling it “settled law” and saying it is something with which he is comfortable. But could he credibly pursue Republican policies on the economy? He has zero credibility or commitment here. He advocates protectionism, no different from that of Bernie Sanders. He has been consistent on this for a long time. It seems he really believes this. He recently came out for tax cuts but also advocates spending boosts: supporting major construction spending and opposing entitlement reform. Aside from tax cuts – a recent addition to his policy proposals, and at odds with his prior statements, his policies on the economy are not just left-wing but far left-wing.

So could Trump go the other way: a largely left-wing economic agenda and a right wing social agenda? It would be more in character. He cares about his socialist economics and while he doesn’t care about the Christian right, he might go along with their agenda to quiet his Republican critics.

The problem is, he sees his immigration policy as a key part of his economic strategy. Democrats can accept everything else, but not this. In a sense, Trump is right. Protectionism is an attempt – which always fails, but never mind – to export unemployment. It is not compatible with porous borders. Bernie Sanders recognises this too, and while far from backing Trump’s nationalist rhetoric, is far less friendly to immigration than most of his ‘progressive’ colleagues.

So, no simplistic ‘grand bargain’ is possible. Trump can’t simply deal with Democrats on the economy and Republicans on social issues because his economic agenda is predicated on a policy which Democrats cannot accept. Furthermore, Trump has no block of support in Congress which he can offer in negotiation. His only bargaining chip is his veto. As of now, no Democratic legislation will be coming to his desk for either veto or signature, because the GOP controls both houses.

To deliver any such ‘grand bargain’ Trump will need to wait until Democrats control or are close to balance in one house and he has a core group of Trumpists in Congress. There’ll be some challenges in the Republican primaries in 2018, with Trump supporters challenging actual Republicans, but that doesn’t mean that more than a handful of Trumpists will actually be elected. Let’s wait and see.

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Quentin Langley lives in New York and London and teaches at the University of Bedfordshire Business School. He is the author of Brandjack: How your reputation is at risk from brand pirates and what to do about it

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