There’s an ironclad rule with Republican presidents — the greater their authoritarianism and incompetence, the more spectacular the destruction they cause.
Richard Nixon’s paranoia led to Watergate, forcing him to resign in 1974. Gerald Ford took over, but was overwhelmed by a deep recession and pushed out in two years. Ronald Reagan’s embrace of criminals and terrorists spawned the Iran-Contra scandal in 1986, turning him into a lame duck. His successor, George H. W. Bush, proved aloof and incompetent during the early 1990s recession and lasted only one term. George W. Bush outdid them all in arrogance and mismanagement — wrecking a city, New Orleans, a country, Iraq, and a global economy.
With Trump the stakes are far higher. His strategy is to sow chaos for the sake of it. But by doing so he is spreading the seeds of his own demise. He is losing many of the battles he started, and these are the ones likeliest to blow up in his face.
Oil Shock Since Trump was inaugurated, gasoline prices have jumped sixty cents a gallon. That’s a $700 annual tax on every American household. Trump bears blame as he’s choked global supplies by hitting Iran and Venezuela’s oil sectors with sanctions. Bank of America warns oil could surpass $100 a barrel next year due to the sanctions. Rising oil prices push up the cost of food and consumer goods and depress economic growth, which could trigger a new recession.
Tax Cut Unpopular For most households, Trump’s $2.3 trillion tax cut is too small to notice. Middle-income households get a $930 annual tax break and the poorest receive $60 on average. But the wealthiest rake in nearly $200,000 a year. Republicans hoped the cut would brighten their dim prospects in the midterm elections. But it’s not shaping up that way. Less than a third of workers say they’ve noticed a bump in their paychecks. And in June only 34 percent of Americans said they approved of the tax cut, a decline of 10 points since January.
More Pain, No Gain Working-class white voters flocked to Trump in 2016. But their support is likely to waver as he torches welfare programs many depend on. Trump’s sabotage of Obamacare pushed 3.2 million Americans off healthcare last year. That number is likely to soar as he withdraws billions of dollars in subsidies for the sickest and imposes work requirements on the poorest. In his 2019 budget proposal, Trump slashed disability programs by $72 billion, public housing by $6.8 billion, low-income energy assistance by $3.4 billion, and over 10 years, $763 billion in healthcare and $213 billion from food stamps. Fortunate for his working-class supporters Trump is a terrible dealmaker. The $1.3 trillion spending bill he signed in March boosted spending for many of the programs he wanted to kill. But Trump will get another chance to screw over his base by cutting welfare as a new spending bill must pass in September, or government shuts down.
Trade Wars Trump has gone from shooting off at the mouth to shooting himself in the foot on trade. He lashed out at Harley-Davidson when it said it would shift some manufacturing overseas to avoid tariffs that add $2,200 on many U.S.-built motorcycles. One firm says Trump’s tariffs on steel and aluminum will cost 495,000 jobs but add only 26,000 jobs. Moody’s warns the global auto industry will be disrupted, which includes 966,000 U.S.-based jobs. Add in tit-for-tat tariffs between the United States and China covering $68 billion worth of goods, and casualties include housing and construction, farming, solar power, and computer chips. But this carnage will be small potatoes compared to what happens if Trump slaps tariffs on $200 billion in Chinese-made goods as he is threatening. Some analysts warn it could set off a new Great Depression.
Korean Deal On the Rocks After veering between nuclear war last year and a historic summit this June, the thin-skinned autocrat and Kim Jong-Un are back on a collision course. North Korea says it will give up its nuclear weapons — if U.S. nukes are removed from the peninsula — and in return for economic aid and a peace treaty. But the latest meeting between diplomats ended with Pyongyang decrying the “unilateral and gangster-like demand for denuclearization” from the White House. Trump has been reduced to heaping praise on Kim to cover-up for another botched deal. North Korea is flouting sanctions on importing oil, reportedly with help from China and Russia, and has dropped talk of denuclearizing.
Gender Gap: Accused of sexual assault and improprieties by 16 women, Trump’s gender gap in 2016 tied a record: Men preferred him by 11 points more than women did. Now, after mocking the #MeToo movement, attacking female candidates, endorsing alleged child molester Roy Moore, and hiring White House staff accused of domestic violence and covering up sexual harassment, his gender gap is a staggering 22 percent. A Washington Post poll finds 54 percent of men approve of Trump’s performance, but only 32 percent of women do. The trouble extends to his base. Among Republicans, 68 percent of men “strongly approve” of his performance, but only 31 percent of women do. The damage is greater down ticket among millennials. Among men 35 years old or younger, 50 percent intend to vote Republican for Congress this fall, while barely 24 percent of millennial women plan to do so. Trump has locked up the angry white man vote, but he needs plenty of women to retain his hold on Congress and get re-elected. And that is looking shaky.
Immigration Trump’s immigration policy is best described as ethnic cleansing. Foremost is his war on 11 million undocumented immigrants, unraveling asylum law, and the Muslim ban. He also wants to criminalize 1.4 million immigrants whose court cases have been closed, have Temporary Protected Status, or came here as children — “Dreamers.” Refugee admissions have all but stopped. Immigrants are being kicked out of the U.S. military. Trump wants to criminalize and deport legal immigrants if they take any government benefit. His administration has even set up a task force to denaturalize U.S. citizens and deport them. But Trump’s policies, particularly the child separation policy, have sparked widespread revulsion. In a rare reversal, he backed down on child separation and imprisoning families indefinitely. “Abolish ICE” has moved from a slogan to being endorsed by prominent politicians. Most important, Trump’s white nationalist agenda is being challenged by a growing immigrant-rights movement that ranges from #OccupyICE camps outside of immigrant jails across the country and more than 600 marches under the banner “Families Belong Together” to local jails canceling contracts to detain immigrants and tech companies being pressured to stop providing services to ICE.
Trump should never be underestimated, of course. Before the midterms next fall, he will likely whip up racism against immigrants and football players, spread conspiracies that ISIS and MS-13 will disrupt the election, use Mueller and the “witch hunt” as a distraction, shut down the government, and perhaps even start a war. But as long as progressives ignore Trump’s provocations and focus on the disasters he is creating that will harm everyone, he can be defeated.