I’ve changed my mind on priority.
Instead of going to tax reform next, President Trump should work on that big-league infrastructure bill. Now. Fast.
President Trump needs a big win because power is in perception. He also needs to put Democrats in a bind. Plus, he needs to prove he can pass big legislation without all GOP factions on board.
The solution is infrastructure.
During the campaign, Trump spoke of a massive building project to rejuvenate our roads, modernize our airports, and more. Trump’s dream sounds more like a traditional Democrat plan than a Republican idea. (Unless you count Eisenhower and Reagan as Republicans.) Shifting to infrastructure now could more than overcome Trump’s defeat on health care.
Infrastructure Can Pass
Trump’s best known for building his way to billionaire status. That makes Trump seem like an expert on the subject. No one considered Trump an expert on government health care. And no one can deny that he’s an expert on building big, huge, beautiful things and running them great.
Byron York, one of my favorite columnists, makes a great point today in a column called “14 Lessons from the GOP Obamacare Debacle":
Had Trump and the House GOP tackled, say, an infrastructure bill first, the story from Capitol Hill would have been a president and Congress giving things to the American people — surely a more popular legislative start to an already controversial presidency.
Even though infrastructure will have enemies in the GOP, Congressmen and Senators from Michigan, Ohio, Wisconsin, and Pennsylvania know that jobs matter. Democrat governors are openly salivating for the projects. So are a lot of Republican state legislatures, though less publicly.
Infrastructure projects promise both immediate, short-term jobs and longer term boosts to productivity and growth. Even some Freedom Caucus members from the rust belt will feel obliged to get on board this train.
But that’s not the best part.
Democrats Will Cross Over for Infrastructure
Trump’s relationships with labor unions are already high for a Republican president. Now, he needs to deliver something to that small but well-funded and activist constituency. He needs to deliver jobs.
Democrats know they can’t fight Trump on a bill that puts a lot of union members to work. Infrastructure will attract enough Democrat votes to neutralize the Freedom Caucus, which will probably oppose the legislation.
And that last point is perhaps the most important.
Courting Democrats Builds Leverage With Republicans
President Trump and Reince Priebus both said they are more willing to work with Democrats now than before the health care debacle. That’s smart negotiating. It’s leverage.
If you remember back to 2015, a lot of Republicans were complaining that many of Trump’s ideas sounded more like a Democrat. That means Trump would be completely consistent with himself if he sought more support from the other party.
Plus, in 2020, Trump won’t be judged by how happy he made 40 members of the Freedom Caucus. He’ll be judged by whether or not he made America great again in the eyes of voters. That’s just the way it is.
And the GOP’s majorities in Congress are so slim that Trump really needs some Democrats down the road. He could have used a dozen in the House on Friday. He will definitely some in the Senate for just about everything.
Again, hat tip to Byron York for reminding us:
Find more votes. Unless there is exceptional unity on an issue, the GOP doesn’t have enough votes to ignore Democrats and pass big legislation entirely on its own. Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid (barely) passed Obamacare with 253 Democrats in the House and 60 in the Senate. Paul Ryan has 237 Republicans and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has 52. The GOP has virtually no room for error.
If every major bill relies on every Republican faction, Trump will accomplish nothing and Democrats will take the House in 2018. Believe me, Democrats will take the House in 2018 if Trump and the Republicans don’t get big things done. (I’m not alone on this. Ted Cruz agrees with me.)
As we saw last week, even after Mark Meadows and David Brat reach an agreement with House leadership and the White House, Meadows and Brat might not deliver the Freedom Caucus. There’s a chance that group will oppose all major legislation, including tax reform if it’s not to their liking. So Trump needs to attract some Democrats now, and infrastructure is the low-hanging fruit.
And timing is important on getting those Democrat cross-overs.
Commitment and Consistency
The sooner some Democrats hold their noses and vote for a Trump initiative, the more Trump can rely on those Democrats in the future. You know this because of the persuasion principle called “commitment and consistency.” The longer Democrats vote “no” on everything the president proposes, the harder it will be for them to get behind the president later.
Researchers find in numerous studies that getting people to take an easy, painless step now makes it more likely that they’ll take a harder, more painful step in the future. That’s because the brain is wired to display consistency with past commitments.
With the right messaging, those Democrats who support the bill will make a statement of commitment to jobs, growth, and making America great again. When it comes time to vote on tax reform, Trump just needs to wrap that legislation in the same commitment language.
A strong move on infrastructure would make a lot of people happy. Happy people see more positives than unhappy people. That makes it easier for people find positives in future, tougher legislation like tax reform.
If Trump makes a strong move on infrastructure in the next two weeks, his larger vision will pick up steam after the summer recess. And the warring factions in the GOP will have to consider this: are their interests better off if they negotiate with Trump or if the Democrats negotiate with Trimp?
Voters will judge Republicans on what they get done between now and the 2018 elections. So far, they’re putting up goose eggs. A big win on infrastructure will make a lot of people happy and forge new alliances that can make America great again.