The Atlantic magazine has just released a remarkable essay written by the political commentator, David Frum, entitled, “How to Build an Autocracy.” Says Mr. Frum, “Donald Trump will not set out to build an authoritarian state. His immediate priority seems likely to be to use the presidency to enrich himself. But as he does so, he will need to protect himself from legal risk. Being Trump, he will also inevitably wish to inflict payback on his critics. Construction of an apparatus of impunity and revenge will begin haphazardly and opportunistically. But it will accelerate. It will have to.”
Let’s assume that Mr. Frum is correct that Trump’s top priority is to enrich himself. What will stop him from doing this? A recent column in the New York Times points out that:
- 54% of registered voters in congressional districts represented by Republicans view Mr. Trump favorably compared with only 42% who view him unfavorably.
In these same districts, 87% of registered Republicans view Mr. Trump favorably.
- In other words, the Republican dominated Congress is unlikely to strongly oppose his sleazy and self-enriching behavior.
But there are other constraints on what he does in office:
- As I said in a recent post in order for Mr. Trump to be reelected in 2020, he will need to substantially speed up economic growth in order to increase the wages of his key blue-collar supporters. He clearly wants to accomplish this.
- On the other hand, the conservative Republican base, including its representatives in the House such as the Freedom Caucus, will simply not support huge increases in deficit spending for anything (except an emergency) including infrastructure, the military or unfunded tax cuts.
- In fact, Rep Mick Mulvaney (R, SC), a deficit hawk, has been nominated to become the Trump Administration’s Budget Director. In March the debt ceiling will have to be raised. I expect the many fiscal conservatives in Congress to insist on significant fiscal restraint (e.g. a ten year plan to balance the budget) as a tradeoff for raising the debt ceiling.
Conclusion. Just because Republicans are tolerant of Mr. Trump’s personal behavior does not mean he can successfully ignore the strong Republican desire for fiscal restraint.