President Donald Trump learned the hard way just how difficult it is to get things done in Washington DC. Throughout his campaign, from the early days of summer in 2015, through to his inauguration in 2017, Trump insisted getting work done in DC is easy. He proclaimed nothing getting done is the fault of “losers” being in charge. With the failure of the AHCA, Trump learned he couldn’t bully his way to success.
Candidates enjoy running for President touting their status as an “outsider” but many know how to play the DC game, and they make sure to surround themselves with others who also know. The problem for Donald Trump is his two closest confidants for talking to members of Congress is one who spent most of his time at the RNC (Priebus) and another who brought with him to DC the same authoritarian mindset as his boss (Bannon).
Trump spotlighted his role as a businessman as a means of being able to negotiate and work with people in Congress, but Trump’s business experience differs from that of other people. Many business executives who make the leap to the government are from publicly traded corporations where they face shareholders and a board of directors. Trump comes from a culture of a family owned and run business where he rules with an iron fist.
As somebody who worked in the corporate world for over 20 years, I learned why corporations tend to promote from within rather than hire outsiders. Organizational culture builds over extended periods of time. Individuals part of the internal team understand that culture. People from the outside tend to make the mistake of attempting to bend the culture to their will instead of embedding themselves in the culture. The result is often alienation and resentment.
Trump, along with Bannon, think they can turn DC to their will, and as they found out, it doesn’t work that way. Steve Bannon has a high-level position in the White House, but he is still a staff member. Bannon is in no position to tell elected members of the co-equal branch of government there “is no debate” on an issue. Their reaction is easily understandable.
Trump will continue to have this problem as he works on more legislation, including his future effort at tax reform. He can rectify that problem, and he should get his son-in-law, Jared Kushner, to lead the effort. If Trump wants to find success, he will need somebody who has the chops to head over to Capitol Hill from time to time and cajole both House and Senate members to join them in getting legislation to the President’s desk to sign.
Kushner played a subtle but vital role in Trump’s campaign. DC insiders were aghast Donald Trump lacked any data infrastructure, but behind the scenes, Kushner built a robust data operation from scratch. The press scratched their heads when Trump made visits to Minnesota late in the campaign. The data operation Kushner developed showed Trump was in striking distance of Hillary.
Kushner is also not an ideologue. His interest centers around finding somebody who can get the job done. The President needs a person who can be the liaison between the White House and Congress. Kushner can likely find that person.
Bannon is poison. The President will find getting anything done very difficult unless he makes a change.