Filling in the GAPs: Goals and Principles for a Trump Administration
As 2016 draws to a close, the sun sets on whatever honeymoon period there was for president-elect Trump. His energetic pace of choosing Cabinet nominations has inevitably triggered some alarms. With all of Trump’s nominations, the Senate should exercise its constitutional role of advise and consent thoroughly and responsibly. They should seek to confirm individuals that are qualified and committed to the stated mission of the agency or to substantive reforms that will make it more responsive. And the nominees should allay concerns by committing only to broad mission statements and emphasise the need for tough negotiation.
Following the logic of what Trump calls “The Art of the Deal” and his meandering campaign platform, Trump and his Cabinet should establish a set of broad goals and principles (GAPs) and leave everything else subject to negotiation.
It took Trump’s pick of ExxonMobil CEO Rex Tillerson for Secretary of State to finally unnerve Republicansbecause of Tillerson’s close, personal relationship with Russian President Vladimir Putin. Regardless of how one feels about the bombshell reports that some CIA officials believe Russian officials ordered the hacking of the Democratic National Committee in order to help Trump win the election, Russia has grown more ambitious, more aggressive, and more opposed than ever to the world order established in the twentieth century. Vladimir Putin has made it perfectly clear that he intends to place Russia front-and-center as a world leader. Putinism might be best described as making the world safe for dictatorships and their alliances stand in direct contrast to the bonds the United States forged in what was known as our American Century.
Moscow does not need any friends in Washington, but a body rots from the head-down. Why are we facing the prospect of a “friend of Vladimir” serving as the nation’s top diplomat? Because Donald Trump was elected president, that is why. Trump sets the agenda. Russia is the largest question mark but concerns remain about Trump and Tillerson’s approach overall.
Following the GAPs approach, a Tillerson-run State Department could declare at the outset that Iran will not be allowed to develop a nuclear weapon. Does that require keeping Trump’s campaign promise to abrogate the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), commonly referred to as the Iran nuclear “deal?” Perhaps it does. Or perhaps it requires meeting with the other five signatories of the JCPOA and committing to certain provisions that are popular, such as tasking the International Atomic Energy Agency with soil sampling outside of known nuclear sites. Perhaps it further requires following Congress’s lead in pressing for more economic sanctions on Iran and abandoning the Obama administration's insistence on holding foreign policy hostage to the deal. Trump’s contributions to this debate are to denounce the deal as “the worst deal ever negotiated” and promise, “I will renegotiate with Iran.” Rex Tillerson and Donald Trump, negotiators by trade, are open to choosing negotiation as policy.
For Trump in particular, ambiguity seems to suit his style. Imagine how it would confound the press if they couldn’t pin him down on contentious issues as they have other politicians. How long could Democrats sustain a filibuster against a bill that they were invited to negotiate? Trump prides himself as a master negotiator; he loves to believe he knows something his sparring partners don’t. As president, he will. Only Donald Trump knows what he’s truly willing to sign into law. That is powerful leverage to use with allies and adversaries alike.
Conservatives, including his Cabinet secretaries, would be in the perfect position to handle everything else. Timetables, triggers, tax credits, penalties, etc. are the nuts and bolts of the legislative process. Why would President Trump lose sleep over such nitty gritty details? Trump is a showman, not a wonk. He cares about painting a big, beautiful picture. This approach would accomplish that. Conservatives could advance their own GAPs to insist that all laws adhere to core constitutional principles and work toward meeting Trump’s aims by relying on time-tested institutions and processes to clear out corruption and upgrade trade, tax, regulatory, and immigration policy to best protect American industries and workers.
This isn’t exactly how I would run things but principled conservatism didn’t win in November. Trump did and that means we’re in for a pragmatic presidency. If I have learned anything from this year, it’s that with Donald Trump, compromise is almost always met on his terms.
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