Trump­ism looks like main­stream con­ser­vatism

Cecil Whig - - FRONT PAGE - Doyle McManus

— The pre­vail­ing opin­ion on Pres­i­den­t­elect Don­ald Trump is that he’s un­pre­dictable, a man of no fixed views who tran­scends tra­di­tional no­tions of right and left.

“Don­ald Trump is post-ide­o­log­i­cal,” Trump’s cam­paign poll­ster, Tony Fabrizio, said at a Har­vard Uni­ver­sity con­fer­ence last week.

With Trump, “you will have no idea each morn­ing what’s go­ing to hap­pen,” for­mer House Speaker Newt Gin­grich said ear­lier, “be­cause he will have no idea.”

Maybe. But if you watch what Trump does, not what he says — which at this point, mostly means the choices he makes for Cabi­net po­si­tions — he doesn’t look un­usual at all.

In Trump’s picks for eco­nomic and do­mes­tic pol­i­cy­mak­ing jobs, there’s a con­sis­tent un­der­ly­ing thread. And no, it’s not that so many of them are bil­lion­aires.

Most of them could have been nom­i­nated by any GOP nom­i­nee, in­clud­ing Ted Cruz or Marco Ru­bio. There’s nary a pop­ulist among them — not even the con­ser­va­tive kind.

“Con­ser­va­tives are happy,” Scott Reed, a po­lit­i­cal ad­vi­sor to the busi­ness-es­tab­lish­ment U.S. Cham­ber of Com­merce, told me. “It’s a main­stream con­ser­va­tive list of very com­pe­tent peo­ple.” Take a look at the names. Steven Mnuchin, the choice for Trea­sury, is a bil­lion­aire who worked for Gold­man Sachs be­fore buy­ing a bank of his own. (Like Trump, he was once a Demo­crat, but he’s a Repub­li­can now.) Mnuchin says his first pri­or­ity is cut­ting taxes, es­pe­cially cor­po­rate taxes.

Wil­bur Ross, the Com­merce sec­re­tary in wait­ing, is another bil­lion­aire in­vestor. His main cause is ne­go­ti­at­ing bet­ter trade deals, but he also wants to dis­man­tle most of the Dodd-Frank fi­nan­cial reg­u­la­tion law.

Tom Price, at Health and Hu­man ser­vices, is a six­term GOP con­gress­man who wants Medi­care and Med­i­caid re­vamped and man­aged mostly by the pri­vate sec­tor – once Oba­macare is re­pealed, of course.

Betsy DeVos, the choice for Ed­u­ca­tion, is a cham­pion of pri­vately run char­ter schools and voucher plans to help par­ents pay pri­vate school tu­ition. Be­fore Trump, she sup­ported Jeb Bush.

At Trans­porta­tion, Elaine Chao spent eight years in Ge­orge W. Bush’s Cabi­net, and she’s mar­ried to Se­nate Repub­li­can Leader Mitch McCon­nell. It’s hard to get much more es­tab­lish­ment than that.

Ben Car­son, the for­mer neu­ro­sur­geon, may add a dash of ec­cen­tric­ity at Hous­ing and Ur­ban De­vel­op­ment — in part be­cause he has no real ex­pe­ri­ence in hous­ing pol­icy — but his views are pretty stan­dard for the GOP. Car­son once called fair hous­ing a “failed so­cial­ist ex­per­i­ment” and told a tele­vi­sion in­ter­viewer that “poverty is re­ally more of a choice than any­thing else.” There’s not a pop­ulist in­sur­rec­tion­ist in the bunch. “This is a busi­ness-friendly Cabi­net of prag­ma­tists,” a top cor­po­rate lob­by­ist in Wash­ing­ton told me, ask­ing for anonymity to pro­tect his multi­na­tional clients. “These are peo­ple ortho­dox Repub­li­cans can work with.”

What hap­pened to all the pop­ulism in Trump’s plat­form that made him the cham­pion of so many white work­ing-class vot­ers? It’s been qui­etly down­sized since Elec­tion Day.

The wall Trump promised to build along the south­ern border is now a fence.

The tril­lion-dol­lar in­fra­struc­ture pro­gram to build roads, bridges and air­ports has shrunk to $550 bil­lion, and most of that — if Congress agrees — will be pri­vate sec­tor in­vest­ment, not govern­ment money.

“Drain the swamp?” Yes, there’s a rule bar­ring lob­by­ists from serv­ing in the tran­si­tion — but they can get around it sim­ply by re­vok­ing their lob­by­ing reg­is­tra­tion.

Trump and Ross say they still plan to rene­go­ti­ate NAFTA and other trade deals, but they plan to do it pa­tiently, not abruptly. “Tar­iffs are the last thing,” Ross told CNBC last week. “Tar­iffs are part of the ne­go­ti­a­tion.”

That doesn’t mean Trump has for­got­ten his work­ing-class vot­ers.

He’s of­fered them a se­ries of grand ges­tures. He’s re­nounced his salary as pres­i­dent. He wants to can­cel the con­tract for a new Air Force One to save money. He jaw­boned Car­rier into keep­ing 730 jobs in In­di­ana in ex­change for $7 mil­lion in tax cred­its.

All bril­liant mar­ket­ing, and enough to launch a vic­tory tour — ral­lies in Ohio last week, North Carolina Tues­day night, Iowa and Michigan next.

So far, in prac­tice, Trump­ism looks like main­stream con­ser­vatism plus tougher trade ne­go­ti­a­tions — and now, cir­cuses. Just like the cam­paign.

Doyle McManus is a colum­nist for the Los An­ge­les Times. Read­ers may send him email at doyle.mcmanus@la­times.com

LOS AN­GE­LES

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