Early Returns

Three Potential Problems for the President

The already fragile administration can't afford for much to go wrong. Plus, Jonathan Bernstein's morning links.

When it rains ...

Photographer: Nicholas Kamm/AFP/Getty Images

President Donald Trump has had several volatile weeks even by his own standards. It's easy to assume that he's settled into an overall equilibrium that's reflected in his very stable recent approval numbers. It's possible that both his detractors and his supporters have dug in and are unlikely to change their minds, barring any major events such as a war or a recession. Perhaps! 

But we don't actually know, and I see three developments that could create new troubles for the president.

One is the rapidly growing number of ex-Trumpers out there. Some of them -- for example, Hope Hicks, presumably -- are going to be very loyal. Some presumably will not be, such as fired Veterans Affairs secretary David Shulkin. Some of those who speak out will have very limited capacity for changing anyone's mind; people like Shulkin might have some influence within the organized veterans community, but his reach is very unlikely to go much further. The more people Trump sheds, however, the greater the chances that some of them start showing up in Republican-aligned media saying negative things about him. 

A second danger is that the business community could turn against the president. So far, there hasn't been a lot of enthusiasm for Trump, but Republicans like tax cuts a lot and Trump (or at least a Republican Congress, with Trump's marginal participation) delivered. However, Trump's assault on Amazon.com Inc. could scare other businesses, and the general chaos and instability of the administration could convince people that he's not worth the bother -- especially given the lack of a future agenda. 

The third danger is from Trump's trade war. Most people don't pay much attention to politics most of the time, and they fall back on partisanship unless there's some good reason to reassess things. The problem with Trump's current protectionism is that there's a chance there will be some very obvious losers that are already organized and likely to blame the president if things go bad. 

None of these are guaranteed to harm Trump's presidency. Most of them, if they happen, will only matter on the margins. The problem is that a president who already has a terrible professional reputation can't afford to be weakened even further, and a president with awful approval numbers who was elected despite losing the popular vote really can't afford to bleed off any support. Plus, these relatively new dangers come on top of several other potential problems, such as the Robert Mueller investigation. 

All of this is happening at a time when the White House organizational structure is in upheaval, with a good chance that Trump is going to opt for an organizational style that has a history of failure. That's a lot of known downside risk for one presidency.

1. Agustina S. Paglayan on teacher strikes in Republican states.

2. Amy Erica Smith at Mischiefs of Faction on the election in Costa Rica

3. Seth Masket on the importance of the demise of local news.

4. Rick Hasen on Justice Antonin Scalia and voting rights.

5. Ariel Edwards-Levy and Arthur Delaney on what the polls show about the big Republican tax cut.

6. Fred Kaplan on preparation for the U.S.-North Korea summit

7. Jared Bernstein on the proposed balanced budget amendment.

8. Here at Bloomberg View, Joni Balter on politics and the Amazon headquarters search

9. And Kevin Drum reviews the history of DACA.

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This column does not necessarily reflect the opinion of the editorial board or Bloomberg LP and its owners.

    To contact the author of this story:
    Jonathan Bernstein at jbernstein62@bloomberg.net

    To contact the editor responsible for this story:
    Brooke Sample at bsample1@bloomberg.net

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