Has Trump finally found his groove?; Tax code reform turns out to be electoral gold
by Robert Fulford

(The National Post, 24 February 2018)

Love him or hate him, Donald Trump's headlong progress through American politics has been the most spectacular event of this era. His triumphs reach higher than anyone else's, his failures fall lower. Following him, with the help of some opinion polls, has developed into the chief entertainment of political life in the United States.

Much of the news lately has been firmly filed in the NeverTrump category. Racist voter suppression and gerrymandering by Republicans, for example, have come under long-awaited but effective fire in the courts. The organization of Trump's White House has been so incompetent that Washington keeps dissolving in chaos.

The investigation of Russia's role in the 2016 election has led to a wave of indictments, which Trump takes personally, as he takes everything personally - it implies that he needed Kremlin-based dirty tricks to be elected. He tweeted "Wasn't Ia Great Candidate?" a pathetic expression of his chronic neediness. "NO COL-LUSION," Trump tweeted when in fact an honest report would have said that no proof of collusion with the Russians has been discovered, yet.

Doug Jones, a former U.S. attorney, became the first Democrat elected to the U.S. Senate from Alabama in 25 years, defeating the Trump-backed Roy Moore, the state's former chief justice, recently accused by nine women of sexual misconduct. The anti-Trump resistance has organized marches, filled the internet with dire warnings and otherwise attempted to build a constituency against the president, if not to impeach him, then at least to defeat his candidates in next fall's off-year elections or limit the possibility of a second Trump term.

But the most important legislative event of this season, the tax code "reform," looked at first like a political calamity for Trump, a bill that would be make rich people richer and do nothing good for the unrich. Instead, the tax code turned out to be electoral gold for Trump. It was praised for an uptick in jobs and raises. Voters began to see it as an encouragement for the whole economy.

Manufacturers that had outsourced production began talking about reversing that process. Americans noticed with pleasure that the withholding amounts in their paycheques shrank slightly. Democrats who had predicted that tax burdens would rise were proven wrong, at least for the moment.

Trump had somehow done something of a Trumpian nature that actually worked. Nancy Pelosi, a major Democrat who had predicted the "pillaging of the middle class," grew strangely silent. According to a poll conducted for The New York Times, a majority - 51 per cent - now support the GOP's tax code law, whereas it had only 37 per cent support when it passed. Trump himself also gained some popularity by his attempt to find a reasonable solution to the problem of DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals).

Trump's critics will claim that his policies look good because 2017 was a good year for trade over much of the world. He couldn't have stopped the boom months of the past year if he had wanted to. His base appears willing to ignore the high level of borrowing in the federal budget that won't leave him much room to manoeuvre if the economy goes into a downturn.

"Big gain over last 4 weeks," Trump tweeted the other day. He had noted that a pollster, McLaughlin & Associates, found Republicans were ahead of the Democrats, 45 to 42 per cent, in polling on Congress. A month before, the numbers had been 45 per cent favouring Democrats and 42 per cent Republicans.

But if Trump has been lucky over the tax code and international trade, he has also become - some of his followers suggest - increasingly cautious. A study of his tweets in recent weeks shows that he's less harsh and angry than he was a while ago.

Recently, after Oprah Winfrey was mentioned as a future presidential, Trump tweeted: "Just watched a very insecure Oprah Winfrey, who at one point I knew very well, interview a panel of people on 60 Minutes. The questions were biased and slanted, the facts incorrect. Hope Oprah runs so she can be exposed and defeated just like all of the others!" It's not the sort of paragraph Winfrey will cut out for her clippings book but - by Trumpian standards, remember - it's damn near graceful.

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