The latest news reports say that Romney is quickly falling out of favor on Trump’s team. I was going to say this is a signal he cares more about loyalty than optics, but it’s actually way more complicated than that.
Of course he cares about loyalty. It’s hard to point to a businessman, politician, co-worker, or friend who doesn’t. And Trump is famous for running things even more “in the family” than most. So there’s no question that loyalty matters to him, and that would be a big strike against Romney. After all, Romney was one of Trump’s biggest detractors. If Trump wants to be surrounded by people who respect him, Romney is an odd choice.
So that’s loyalty. What about optics? What about thinking through how things look on the outside? What about tracking polls? What about delivering hard truths? What about standing for a clear governing philosophy, even when it’s difficult or unpopular? That’s where Trump’s seemingly laser-focused call to #draintheswamp refracts into an entire rainbow of different considerations.
Joe Walsh, Ann Coulter, and Sarah Palin were some of the biggest Trump supporters during his campaign. But in the last few days, all three of them have expressed disappointment with the president-elect.
Ann Coulter read some news about potential immigration plans and said “Sounds like the big sell-out is coming. Oh well. The voters did what we could. If Trump sells out, it’s not our fault.”
Sarah Palin saw Trump give big tax breaks to Carrier in order to save 800 jobs, and said “When government steps in arbitrarily with individual subsidies, favoring one business over others, it sets inconsistent, unfair, illogical precedent.” Later she said “Republicans oppose this, remember?” she continued. “Instead, we support competition on a level playing field, remember? Because we know special interest crony capitalism is one big fail.”
And I assume Joe Walsh was responding to the same deal when he said “Somebody please talk to President-Elect Trump and explain to him how the free market works. How capitalism works. Please.”
To be clear, these are not random people I found searching the internet. Coulter, Palin, and Walsh are a really big deal in conservative circles. And while these are only two tweets and one op-ed, they are a good example of the governing tightrope Trump has found himself on.
Take immigration. Ann Coulter wants to reduce immigration. 38% of Americans agree with her. And that’s actually pretty close to an all-time low. That number has been dropping, on average, since 9/11.
Whereas the exact same number of Americans, 38%, think the current numbers should be kept the same. And nearly an all-time high of Americans, 21%, think immigration should be increased. When you factor in the 3% with no opinion, we’re looking at 38% of Americans who agree with Ann Coulter and 62% that don’t.
So if you’re Trump, what do you do? Do you annoy one of your fiercest defenders and have her accuse you of selling out? Or do you go where the wind is blowing in terms of public opinion? Rounding up 11 million people and removing them from the country is not popular (or particularly possible). Building a wall and having Mexico pay for it isn’t either. But striking a middle ground, where violent criminals are found and deported, or where a path for citizenship is identified, could work … while enraging many in his base.
If he wants to enact good policy that is aligned with public opinion, the choice is pretty clear. And that’s not just opinion, it’s what the data is telling us. But he wants to make his base feel warm and fuzzy about following through with all of his campaign promises, he’d have to go against the tide of public opinion.
I think the same choice is looming for Secretary of State. If he actually ends up going with Dana Rohrabacher, a man famous for his warm embrace of Putin, Trump’s mindset will be clear. He would be signaling a desire to align Russia to America. But again, the optics aren’t that simple. It might not be “I think he’s the best person for the job, even though it looks like he’s too close to Russia.” It might be as simple as “Hell yes I want America to be close to Russia. That’s why I picked this guy.”
If this were a book or movie, it would be a page-turner because a lot of previous held assumptions and conventions are being challenged. But it’s real life, which makes it a lot more concerning. I don’t mind challenging assumptions and re-thinking our place in the world, but I do mind a foreign policy that seems to be built on Russian appeasement over international stability.
And I’m pretty sure that point of view would poll at 70%.