Early Returns

Trump Loses More Staff. Expect More Chaos.

Jonathan Bernstein's morning links.

Three senior White House staffers announced in the last few days they are leaving in January: deputy chief of staff Rick Dearborn, National Economic Council Deputy Director Jeremy Katz and deputy national security adviser Dina Powell. Of course, record-high turnover for this White House is nothing new, but this round feels a bit different. Up to this point, most of those who left were either fired or clearly did so under pressure, with most outside observers applauding their absence because they were obviously bad hires in the first place. But that's not necessarily the case with this batch, each of whom had ties to the Republican Party, not to Donald Trump personally, and had the kind of experience appropriate for their senior White House jobs. 

So while I'm in no position to assess their individual performance, collectively this appears to be a loss that likely will increase, not decrease, the chaos in the White House. 

Losing them also will tend -- depending, of course, on who replaces them -- to position Trump and his administration even further outside the party network. 

Here's the thing, though. All year, I have argued that this presidency has the weakest ties to its party since the days of Jimmy Carter and Richard Nixon. I still think that there are some real dangers associated with personal presidencies. But as my Bloomberg View colleague Francis Wilkinson said this week, Trump is nevertheless acting as a strong partisan

I can think of a few possible reasons. One is simply that the overall political environment is so partisan right now that all incentives push presidents to be extremely partisan regardless of their preferences. Another is that Trump's weak ties to his party make him particularly easy for the party to influence precisely because he constantly has to prove himself to them. And then there's what we know about Trump's personality. He's easily influenced by what he hears, especially from flatterers. That pushes him to watch hours and hours of Fox News (and even use conservative talk-show hosts as his kitchen cabinet), which in turn means that he winds up adopting their policy positions. And then there's the negative personal partisanship possibility. Trump is intensely thin-skinned, and therefore, unlike most professional politicians, he's incapable of working with a partisan opponent after he hears them attack him. 

I don't know which if any of these explains the "hyper-partisan" actions of an unusually personal president. But it's certainly been the case so far that he's just as partisan as Barack Obama or George W. Bush, both of whom had White Houses full of campaign professionals who made their careers almost exclusively within their own party network. And I suspect losing three staffers with solid party ties won't change that.

1. Christopher Federico on public opinion and the tax bill. Excellent. I'll add something I neglected to mention in my item earlier this week on the topic of those who benefit not realizing it: That's exactly what happened with the Obama-era tax cuts in 2009. It will be different this time; Obama didn't talk much about cutting taxes, while Trump has and certainly will continue to do so. That may have real effects. But the point here is that many of us don't actually know whether we're paying a little more or a little less in taxes. And as Federico explains, we're apt to be upset if we think others did better. In fact, it seems quite possible to me that Trump's rhetoric encouraging citizens to believe that others are the ones really benefiting from government action could backfire on him here by encouraging feelings of relative deprivation even when it's Trump in the White House. 

2. Vanessa Williamson at the Monkey Cage on the history of Republicans and tax cuts for the wealthy

3. Josh Huder on what's happened to the Senate in 2017

4. Margot Sanger-Katz on the Affordable Care Act without the individual mandate

5. Matt O'Brien on Republican dishonesty about the tax bill. Deserved. The idea that Trump is personally going to pay more is a joke, for example, and yet he and others have claimed it repeatedly. 

6. Since I wrote earlier this week on ways in which Trump doesn't have many achievements this year compared with a typical president, I'd better link to Nick Tabor's list of what has changed. Fifty-five changes sounds like a lot -- but I expect that similar lists from other presidential first years would be at least as long. And that still leaves the question of how much credit (or blame) Trump himself deserves for many of these items. My view: Trump seemingly randomly selected a handful of engaged people to head some departments and agencies, and those political appointees are implementing a lot of the Republican agenda, without many of the normal constraints a typical White House would place on, for example, acting on unpopular portions of that agenda. Elsewhere, not much is going on. 

7. And Ben Collins on how some congressional interns amuse themselves.

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    Jonathan Bernstein at jbernstein62@bloomberg.net

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