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Transition to Trump: Yes, Donald Trump truly does want to drain the swamp

My how things have changed.

All throughout Donald Trump’s journey to the presidency beginning with his announcement and continuing on through the GOP primary season and then through the course of the general election campaign, the media and #NeverTrumpers questioned whether the outsider Republican could really count on his fellow party members to Trump drain the swampunify and support him.

Now that Trump proved all of them wrong and won the election, many in this same group are alarmed that Trump may get too much support and will therefore use his office to bully conservative dissenters into bending to his will.

Tim Alberta penned a lengthy piece in National Review openly pondering the future of conservatism under Trump. Alberta wrote, “There’s no way yet of knowing how aggressively, if at all, Trump will steer the party way from traditional conservative orthodoxy — or how aggressively Republicans in his administration and in Congress will fight him. But if there’s a lesson to be learned from the last time the GOP controlled all of government, it’s that there are lasting consequences to abandoning the party’s foundational values…

“[I]f congressional Republicans are as deferential to Donald Trump as they were to George W. Bush, conservatives shouldn’t be concerned about the 45th president straying from the party’s core principles. They should worry that he’ll redefine those principles altogether.”

In his article, Alberta specifically discusses the House Freedom Caucus, the 40-member strong group of principled conservatives who’ve made it their purpose to keep the party leadership in line during Obama’s second term. Supposedly now there’s some concern whether the HFC would be willing to play a similar role under Trump – and if they are, what individual consequences there might be because of it.

Alberta’s is a very well put-together argument, highly recommended if you have time. But I also think the premise that Trump will steamroll his critics is a tad premature considering it’s still a month away from his inauguration and, as I assert below, Trump’s recent history doesn’t indicate he’ll carry grudges.

There’s also word that some in Congress are already afraid to express their opinions about him. In a story titled “Trump posse browbeats Hill Republicans,” Rachel Bade of Politico wrote, “It’s little wonder that Capitol Hill Republicans have papered over their not-insignificant policy differences with Trump, shying away from any statement about the president-elect that might possibly be construed as critical. They’re terrified of arousing the ire of their tempestuous new leader — or being labeled a turncoat by his army of followers…

“Since the election, numerous congressional Republicans have refused to publicly weigh in on any Trump proposal at odds with Republican orthodoxy, from his border wall to his massive infrastructure package. The most common reason, stated repeatedly but always privately: They're afraid of being attacked by Breitbart or other big-name Trump supporters.”

I love the imagery Bade provides – “tempestuous new leader,” “turncoat” and “army of followers.” Can’t you almost see the torches and pitchforks now?

And are these people really afraid because of Trump? Those in the politics business get attacked from all sides on a regular basis. If they’re hyper-sensitive to criticism, I might suggest a quieter profession for them…perhaps teaching a knitting class would be more to their liking.

If there are defensive reactions to any “criticism” of the Trump agenda it’s likely due to the fact that Republicans and conservatives are enjoying a rare bit of unity and harmony these days and it shouldn’t be upset by opposition to events or proposals that haven’t even occurred yet.

Of course there is always the question of whether Trump will “punish” those who oppose some of his measures in the coming months but the president-elect’s actions don’t always equal the sum of his threats thrown out on Twitter or otherwise.

For example, Trump had plenty to say about all of his former rivals for the Republican nomination but there haven’t been any concrete repercussions for any of them…yet. When Ted Cruz delivered his now infamous “vote your conscience” speech at the Republican convention last summer, Trump subtly hinted he might support a primary challenger for the Texas senator in 2018.

Cruz since relented, endorsing Trump at the end of September. In return, Trump talked at length with his former rival after the election and although nothing of substance has resulted from their meetings, speculation continues that Cruz may be in line for a Supreme Court appointment…or at the very least it looks like the two leaders are now getting along.

And then there’s the case of Mitt Romney and several others who didn’t support Trump at all, even in the general election – yet still received consideration for important positions within the administration. Education Secretary-to-be Betsy DeVos was chosen by Trump and it isn’t clear that she even voted for him.

In other words, there isn’t any real history of Trump harboring malice towards those who spoke out against him at some point. Heck, even wishy-washy Paul Ryan is still occupying the Speaker’s office in the capital and we all remember how Trump and Ryan feuded during the campaign.

I have argued a number of times that Trump is primarily a pragmatist who expects opposition on some things and will show charity towards those who grant him leeway for the “big” items on his agenda. Trump isn’t stupid – he knows he won’t “make America great again” solely by using his pen and phone like Obama.

Simply put, Trump won’t be a great president by himself. Trump the dealmaker understands the party on the other side of the negotiating table needs to be satisfied too, or there will be no deal.

This portrayal of Trump as a vengeful mafia don-like president who will “off” his enemies at the drop of a hat is purely a media created phenomenon. There are enough checks on Trump’s power within Congress and in the White House itself to believe that the new president will play nice with whomever he deals with as long as they’re fair and open to trying some practical solutions that may not have been used in the past.

You can’t drain the swamp if it’s already clogged with ideas and policies that went nowhere.

Besides, if Trump gets out of line, Kellyanne Conway will be there to steer him back to reality. There should be some comfort in that knowledge, right?

Newt Gingrich questions whether Trump is still interested in draining the swamp

Speaking of critics and draining the swamp, one of Donald Trump’s most vocal supporters is now questioning – in public – whether the president-elect is still interested in using the terminology that brought him to victory.

Paulina Firozi of The Hill reports, “Former Speaker Newt Gingrich (R-Ga.) said in a new interview that Donald Trump has taken a different tone as president-elect and may be leaving behind his campaign promise to ‘drain the swamp.’

“Gingrich told NPR's ‘Morning Edition’ that he was told Trump ‘now says [the phrase] was cute, but he doesn’t want to use it anymore.’”

Gingrich also noted that the catchphrase “lock her up” isn’t being used too often these days either, but I’m sure the feeling behind it hasn’t changed all that much.

Nevertheless, Gingrich acknowledged that Trump is his “leader” and will follow the president-elect’s direction on the rhetoric. The press is going to have a field day with that one.

As far as the “swamp” is concerned, actions speak louder than words. In his selections for cabinet offices Trump has assembled a collection of outsiders and boat-rockers that have many claiming his administration could be the most reform-minded and conservative ever – including Ronald Reagan’s.

And on Tuesday Kellyanne Conway talked about “draining the swamp” during her radio interview with Laura Ingraham. Clearly the lingo is still there. I’m guessing Trump will respond to Gingrich by tweeting something about “draining the swamp” at his first convenience.

Not only is the “swamp” being drained, there’s word that Trump could be planning to sidestep all the alligators at the RNC by forming his own political organization. David M. Drucker of the Washington Examiner reports, “Trump's lieutenants are comparing the new group, still under development, to Organizing For Action, the political nonprofit formed by President Obama to harness the grassroots energy that propelled his campaigns and promote his legislative agenda.

“Republicans fret that Trump's 501(c)4 could similarly undercut the Republican National Committee. The fear is that it would weaken the RNC financially and organizationally, damaging the party down ballot even as it possibly boosts the president-elect's 2020 re-election bid, as OFA did for Obama in 2012.”

It should be pointed out that many of these same people predicted the growing influence of America’s Tea Parties would weaken the Republican National Committee ahead of the most recent elections. It didn’t work out that way as the grassroots groups helped usher in congressional majorities and served as a training ground for local activists who worked diligently for Trump this year.

Fears that the party establishment would be wiped out have hardly been realized -- unfortunately. The RNC is arguably as strong as it’s ever been and that’s long after many conservatives stopped supporting its campaign committees because of their bias against conservative primary candidates.

A separate Trump advocacy organization will likely have the same effect. It will coexist with the RNC and I’m guessing both will have plenty of resources to do their respective jobs. You can’t compare what happened with the Democrats to this new arrangement because Obama’s relative popularity didn’t translate to the party as a whole. The ideological base and talent pool in the GOP is much deeper at this point, so Trump can likely have his cake and eat it too on this one.

And yes, the swamp will still get drained.

Democrats from red states could hold the key to cabinet confirmations

With four weeks to go until Inauguration Day focus is beginning to turn to the important work of confirming Donald Trump’s cabinet nominees. Republicans will have 52 Senators in the next Congress providing a small cushion to Trump’s appointments, though several potentially vulnerable Democrats will be recruited to help out in addition.

The hearings themselves could be quite a spectacle with the Democrats facing complete annihilation of the Obama agenda. But the tug-of-war will go both ways.

Eliana Johnson of Politico reports, “The prospect of brutal confirmation hearings has Republicans targeting red-state Democrats in hopes of softening opposition to some of Donald Trump’s most conservative Cabinet nominees — from Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt to Alabama Sen. Jeff Sessions...

“[A]fter Christmas, five red state Democratic senators up for reelection in 2018 will find themselves in the cross hairs of an ad campaign pushing them to support Pruitt, Trump’s nominee to head the Environmental Protection Agency.”

The red state Democrats discussed in Johnson’s article are West Virginia’s Joe Manchin, Missouri’s Claire McCaskill, Montana’s Jon Tester, Indiana’s Joe Donnelly and North Dakota’s Heidi Heitkamp. Heitkamp was rumored to be the leading candidate for Trump’s Agriculture secretary, but insiders say for a variety of reasons she’s likely to remain in the Senate.

The pressure on this group to side with Trump will be considerable. Democrats are usually pretty good about sticking together – that’s how they were able to get Obamacare passed without a single Republican vote – but it doesn’t take a genius to figure out that the party’s trajectory is on a steep downhill slide.

In making their case Democrats will no doubt bring up the fact Hillary Clinton won the popular vote by almost three million votes, which is true, but that fact only buys you safety in loony California and the northeast states these days. Senators Dianne Feinstein, Elizabeth Warren and soon-to-be Minority Leader Chuck Schumer can feel safe saying anything they want about Trump and panning every single one of his nominees if they so choose.

But red state Democrats such as those named above are facing the reality of being voted out if they anger their constituents too much. All those California voters aren’t going to help these candidates one bit on Election Day 2018 – in fact, they might be a liability being linked too closely with states that are sinking fast into political oblivion.

Political tides do tend to ebb and flow but there’s no denying that many Democrats are in trouble at the state level because their party doesn’t really have an agenda now that Obama is moving out of the White House. There’s a fight going on to lead the DNC and the Clintons have been disgraced and all-but relegated to the dust bin of history thanks to Hillary’s loss, her ongoing email scandal and the Clinton Foundation’s upcoming investigations.

The red state Democrats are adrift on a rudderless raft in states with large numbers of “deplorable” Trump voters. Add in the fact Trump is likely to be successful getting much of his legislative agenda passed in the first year and it will be a lot safer to join the “winning” side.

As history suggests, few presidential cabinet nominees are ever defeated. If one should get in trouble, chances are he or she will withdraw. Having a few Democrats to aid in confirmation would be a helpful thing for Trump – but if Democrats are viewed as opposing his nominees simply out of party spite, they’re the ones who will have to face the music in 2018.

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