Looking at what newest legislative efforts from the Trump administration mean and why they are trying to gain attention of the far-right.
While President Donald Trump and his administration has tried to push conservative policies in the past, this last week saw a significant change in the types of policies the White House was presenting. With a few exceptions, the majority of President Trump’s policies have aligned generally with congressional Republicans. But as of last week, some of the Trump administration’s more recent policies have taken a significant hard-right turn towards social conservatism.
After more than 200 days in office, why is President Trump pushing for more socially conservative legislation that even some Republicans are uncomfortable backing? Let’s check in with out 10-Point Expert.
Point 1: Before we give examples of the recent social conservative policy changes pushed by the Trump administration, some context over why this is happening is important. Over the first 200 days in office, the Donald Trump presidency has done very little to actually move the needle when it comes to substantial public policy. As of this writing, the Trump administration’s greatest legislative achievement has been the Supreme Court confirmation of Neil Gorsuch.
Point 2: Between the debacle that was the Republican effort to repeal-and-replace the Affordable Care Act (something that President Trump had promised would be simple to do in the first 100 days in office) to the ongoing Russian investigation, which becomes an increasingly darker cloud over the White House with each passing day, President Trump’s “honeymoon period” as president has been anything but pleasant. As expected, this has caused concern with many of his supporters.
Point 3: As recent polls of President Trump’s approval ratings show, his base that helped him clinch an Electoral College victory back in 2016 is shrinking significantly. This puts President Trump’s disapproval ratings right about 50%!! Considering the economy is doing well and the US is relatively in a time of peace (nuclear threats from North Korea withstanding), these low approval ratings for President Trump has to be concerning!
Point 4: So in light of President Trump’s slumping approval ratings and legislative miasma that has made it very hard to pass any of his initiatives through Congress, his administration has decided to push hard-right on social conservative policies that he hopes will appease his base. These socially conservative policies have manifested in multiple ways, from legislative proposals (the RAISE Act) to department specific initiatives (like the Justice Department’s weakening of Affirmative Action policies as state universities).
Point 5: The RAISE (Reforming American Immigration for Strong Employment) Act is a good example of the type of legislation that the Trump administration has been trying to push as of late. For those that don’t know, the RAISE Act is a piece of legislation, introduced by the Trump administration, that would implement a “merit based points system” into US immigration policy. Specifically, that means foreign individuals that are “highly skilled workers” in the areas of science and engineering would be prioritized over all other immigrants; especially those individuals that want to immigrate to the US through family ties, the Visa Lottery System, or refugees seeking asylum in the US. The result of implementing this policy change would slash immigration by half from about 1 million to 500,000 individuals per year!
Point 6: Considering economists generally agree that immigration in the life blood of a healthy US economy, the implementation of the RAISE Act into the immigration system would be a disaster. In other words, it’s bad legislation that has zero chance of passing due to legislative action limiting immigration is generally unpopular with most in the US. However, to President Trump’s core base, legislation like the RAISE Act is a major reason why they voted him into office. An anti-immigration stance was popular stance among Trump supporters during his presidential campaign; so even if the Trump administration knows that the bill has no chance of advancing in Congress, politically speaking, its popular with his base.
Point 7: However, the Trump administration isn’t only interested in backing hard-right legislation in Congress, but pushing department specific initiatives on a federal level; like the Justice Department’s push to curb affirmative action practices at colleges and universities! The report comes from the Washington Post in which President Trump has asked the Justice Department’s Civil Rights division to investigate (and bring legal action if necessary) to colleges and universities that practice “intentional race-based discrimination.” Or aka colleges and universities that actively push affirmative action practices at their institutions.
Point 8: Much like the RAISE Act, the Trump administration is very much trying to focus on their core base of supporters with the Justice Department’s recent efforts to curb affirmative action. Even though most Americans feel affirmative action practices have helped the problem of diversity in higher education, Trump supporters have felt the opposite. In a Washington Post/Kaiser Family Foundation survey, they found Trump supporters felt “whites losing out because of preferences for blacks and Hispanics” was a much bigger national problem than the general populace believe it is.
Point 9: Most of President Trump’s political capital is based on his supporters. For many within the GOP, Trump’s base of conservative voters is the main reason why many within the GOP at least have to pay lip service to many of the president’s initiatives. Considering the 2018 and 2020 elections are right around the corner, many congressional Republicans are worried about primary challengers being backed by President Trump during their reelection efforts. Yet with President Trump’s political base shrinking, that means much of the political capital that he had over congressional Republicans is suddenly slipping away. That means if congressional Republicans were wanting to go against President Trump on certain policy ideas, they’re more likely to do so without his political base.
Point 10: The problem with legislating that only tries to appease your particular political base is that it creates unsustainable political initiatives. Thus far, the Trump administration hasn’t been able to get much traction on any of his legislative goals because of this. While some congressional Republicans would support many of the hard-right social conservative legislation that the Trump administration has pushed (like the RAISE Act), the measures wouldn’t be able to get enough votes in either the House or Senate to become actual law. The same goes for the numerous executive orders he has written and the various departmental orders that have been issued; these can be easily reversed with a new administration in the White House. For that reason alone, these recent moves by the Trump administration is more of a ploy to regain his dwindling base than actual policy ideas by the administration.
(Photo Credit: Donald Trump’s Instagram)