President Trump today will unveil a $1.5 trillion infrastructure plan that his own aides don’t think will pass, and a $4 trillion budget that reads like “science fiction.” It’s the strangest of year-ahead plans for a party that controls the White House and both chambers of Congress: Top Republicans see Job 1 for this year as promoting the tax cut they passed last year.
The state of play: With the House in danger in November’s midterms, a Republican close to the White House tells me this is a year for pumping Trump’s base on taxes, economic growth and the wall (or the fight for the wall), “while the Dems help with focus on immigrants. For Rs, this is a year to avoid losing.”
So ignore the documents and blather today. Here’s Trump’s real plan for ’18: A source close to the White House tells me that with an eye to getting Republicans excited about voting for Republicans in midterms, the president this year will be looking for “unexpected cultural flashpoints” — like the NFL and kneeling — that he can latch onto in person and on Twitter. The source said Trump “is going to be looking for opportunities to stir up the base, more than focusing on any particular legislation or issue.”
One of D.C.’s savviest Democrats had come to the same conclusion, without my even mentioning it. Matt Bennett, c0-founder of the centrist Democratic group Third Way, said: “His administration is cranking away on these Potemkin legislative efforts.” But what he’s really interested in is storylines revolving around him — driving the conversation with whatever crosses his mind at that moment, and then comes out of his mouth or his fingers.
All that is more evidence for our continuing reminder to you that Trump will be more Trumpthis year: With the departure of centrist aides and the gravitational pull of midterms in November and his reelection race in 2020, Trump’s nationalist campaign instincts are likely to get even more sway than they did last year. P.S. The White House begins this week with unfinished business — continuing fallout from the messy resignation of Staff Secretary Rob Porter:
N.Y. Times: “Even when reporters called the White House press office roughly three weeks ago asking about Mr. Porter’s divorces and whether they had affected his security clearance, that did not stir concern.”
NYT: Without longtime deputy Kirstjen Nielsen, now Secretary of Homeland Security, Chief of Staff John Kelly “sometimes does not remember what he has said to different people, two officials said.”
L.A. Times: “Over and over again the past few days, various White House aides have buttonholed reporters to tell them … that they think Kelly either lied to them or tried to get them to lie about what he knew when.”