Traditionally, historians and political scientists sum up an entire administrations accomplishments into one word – doctrine. We’ve all heard it before. The Clinton doctrine, the Bush doctrine, the Obama doctrine. While not exactly necessarily the most nuanced way to define a Presidency, the concept does a good job of encapsulating the core tenants of a President’s agenda. For example, if we look at the respective Bush and Obama doctrines on foreign policy, we can define Bush as an interventionist and Obama as a neoliberal.
Doctrines help to define legacies. From FDR’s Keynesian economic agenda to rebuild the devastated American economy to Ronald Reagan’s deregulatory trickle down approach, centralized agendas provide a fulcrum on which the administrations and its allies in Congress operate.
So what is the Trump doctrine? What is the central governing ideology by which the Party is guided?
To put it bluntly, he has none.
The closest the President gets to a discernible dogma is on the issue of immigration. Perhaps the one thing that’s been consistent throughout the campaign and young presidency is hostility towards migrants. There’s just two problems for Mr. Trump.
First, immigration is an ineffective issue to center your Presidency on. For previous Presidents, their core issue area helped guide policy reform in other sectors. Reagan’s trickle down agenda had massive impacts on taxes, business regulation, and central financial institutions. Obama’s neoliberal foreign policy determined when military force was used, how trade was conducted with allies, and who the United States placed sanctions on. Now, immigration does impact a huge part of the economy, but it doesn’t provide the same fulcrum point. You can’t pass tax reform as part of your anti-immigration agenda.
Second, to the extent that immigration is the Trump doctrine, he’s thus far been extremely ineffectual. His travel ban was blocked by federal courts for months until the Supreme Court allowed parts of it to hold. The weakened ban will only be in effect for 90 days, and then the administration can decided to let it die or reinstate it and have the Supreme Court review it. Hardly a major win for the administration, who argued that the ban was needed immediately so terrorists wouldn’t catch wind of it. It’s difficult to even understand the point of a delated ban in that context. Furthermore, all indications are that Trump’s wall at the Mexican border isn’t going to become law. The President hardly mentions the wall anymore, an indication that the key tenet of the Trump campaign is probably dead before it started.
Outside of immigration, the President has undermined his own agenda at every turn, signifying he has no governing philosophy. He appointed an administration that disagrees with him on important issues, both domestically and abroad. Chief economic adviser Gary Cohn is that neoliberal, globalist, swamp monster Trump was elected to banish from Washington. National Security Advisor and Secretary of Defense H.R. McMaster and Jim Mattis our foreign policy traditionalists that Trump was supposed to shun in the spirit of America First. Chief of Staff Reince Preibus is the kind of Washington party insider who represented the failure of DC politicians.
Instead, Trump is content punting the ball to Paul Ryan and Mitch McConnell. The healthcare bill is a prime example of Trump’s incoherence on policy. First he helped advocate for the House GOP bill, then leaked to the press the White House didn’t really like the House bill, then held a celebration in the Rose Garden when the bill passed, and then called it ‘mean’ behind closed doors. Now that the bill is in the Senate, he’s back on board again, running attack ads against wavering Senator Dean Heller (R – NV). Republican Senators shouldn’t feel too comfortable that the President won’t perceive their bill as just as cruel as the health bill yet, however, considering the New York Times wrote a story about Mr. Trump not understanding that the bill cuts taxes for the wealthy.
So, thus far the Trump Doctrine has quite simply been confusion. He’s cracking down on immigration, but if you criticize immigrant raids he’s just continuing the policy of the Obama administration (partially true). He’s draining the swamp, except for the ones he appoints to his cabinet and holds private fundraisers with. He’s getting tough on China unless he’s talked to President Xi that day, then China’s doing a great job. He’s not going to cut Medicaid or Medicare, unless Republicans pass a bill that cuts both. And we called Mitt Romney a flip-flopper.
In fact, the closest thing we have to a Trump Doctrine would be more suitably named the Anti-Obama Doctrine. If there’s one principal by which Trump has been guided in the first six months of his Presidency, it’s dismantling Obama’s legacy. From Executive Orders to Tweets, Trump continues to attack Obama on a weekly basis.
Speaking of Tweets, maybe that will be the legacy the Trump Presidency is remembered by.