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William C. Altreuter
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Saturday, March 25, 2017

Now that the first major legislative initiative of the Trump Administration has gone down in flames the concern I have is how the narrative will shift in the media. Paul Ryan was the person who got singed the worst in this I think. One way to tell this story is that Trump, the master dealmaker, the closer, discovered that politics ain't beanbag, and another is that Ryan, the policy wonk didn't know how to count votes. The way I see it going is that in the short term Trump will be mocked, because he is already being mocked. This is a thing that happens in Washington when someone unfamiliar with the folkways of Georgetown arrives and announces that there's a new sheriff. I have noted elsewhere that the chief difference between this Worst President Ever and the last one is that Bush fils had a capable Regent. Mike Pence is no Dick Cheney, but Trump's larger problem is that he has made no effort to court Permanent Washington. He has made an enemy of the press, and has assumed that Twitter, which worked so well for him in his campaign, would allow him to bypass the media. #Sad. Congresspersons and their staff don't hang on his Tweets-- they have constituencies, and with a few exceptions, such as the odious Chris Collins, they feel as though they are obliged to be responsive to those constituencies. As I see it, in the absence of a crisis-- an outside crisis, I mean, not something self-inflicted, Trump's narrative is cast. He is going to be portrayed as a blowhard and a buffoon. This is pretty easy to do, as those of us who remember him from the 80's know-- he is a blowhard and a buffoon, with no real negotiating chops, and less of a notion about policy or governance.

Ryan seems to have lost touch with the realities of the rank and file, but he is, for whatever reason, favored by the media, at least to some extent. He has been anointed as a policy wonk, which is a term of respect in the sphere in which he operates. He is thought to be the sort of politician who sees the big picture, who has an overall vision of how government should be structured. I'm concerned that the Ryan narrative may turn on the question, "Can Ryan Recover?" To ask the question is to answer it. If Paul Ryan actually went back to Janesville and announced his retirement the media would be denied the comeback story that it would prefer, so of course he can recover. He'll be Speaker next year, going into the midterms, and after that the stories that will be written about him will be about how he was able to lead his people through the stormy early days of  the Trump Administration. Any small win he can pick up along the way will feed into this narrative, so the key right now is to do everything possible to keep those small wins away from him.

Conspicuous in its absence for the moment are the Democrats, although this is subject to change. Chuck Schumer's preference is to do things. Unlike Trump he really does know how to negotiate and cut deals, and that's what he prefers to do. Nevertheless, he is up on the Gorsuch nomination, which is important. As I have noted elsewhere, there are three possible outcomes on this. The most likely is that Gorsuch is approved by the Senate. That's bad, but if it busts the filibuster I see good coming from it. It must be hard for Schumer to oppose the Gorsuch nomination knowing that it may come at the cost of a tool for obstruction, but in the long term this  will be a favorable, democratic development. There are ample veto points in the overall structure of American government. Through its history the filibuster has been a reactionary device which has only rarely accomplished any good. The third possible outcome? As Mario Cuomo used to say, Who knows? The horse may talk. Right now the narrative has turned in the Democrats' favor. They aren't being obstructionist-- the Republicans are being incompetent. This is a very good thing.

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