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  • Seth Levy

Triangulating infrastructure

A few weeks ago, Time Magazine published an interview with Trump relating to his 2020 campaign strategy. The thrust of the article is that Trump, unlike all recent two term Presidents, will run a base focused campaign instead of running towards the middle.


Trump, who lost the popular vote in 2016 and is the only President in the history of Gallup polling never to crack 50% approval, says he’s ready to defy that legacy. “I think my base is so strong, I’m not sure that I have to do that,” he tells TIME, after being asked whether he should reach out to swing voters. The mantra of Trump 2020 is “turnout, turnout, turnout,” as campaign manager Brad Parscale puts it. “People all think you have to change people’s minds. You have to get people to show up that believe in you.” 'My Whole Life Is a Bet' Time Magazine

In the article, they quote a presidential historian who argues this strategy hasn't been attempted in modern times.


Never before has an incumbent President run a campaign this way. “It is a strategy built for the new partisan era,” says Princeton University presidential historian Julian Zelizer. “Candidates are always doing things to turn out their supporters. What has not been tested, at least in modern times, is a strategy in which all the rhetoric and all the policy is just tailored around the turnout crowd and there is no effort to go beyond it.” 'My Whole Life Is a Bet' Time Magazine

It's a misdirection. To begin with, Trump has actual legislative accomplishments, like the First Step Act, to tout that appeal to the middle. His July fourth extravaganza was also a play to center. But beyond that, I think Trump is setting up the Democrats for an infrastructure triangulation play in 2020.


The key to this strategy is timing and leverage. On timing let's keep in mind that Clinton's famous triangulation, the signing of welfare reform, wasn't introduced in Congress until June of 1996 by John Kasich. It was signed into law in August of 1996. So, if Trump followed a similar timeline, he still has a full year to get on the same page with Democrats.


Like Trump, Bill Clinton found himself confronting a new Republican majority starting in 1994. Although they were completely opposed to Clinton, the House under Newt Gingrich felt pressure to prove they could govern and deserved to maintain the gavel. Accomplishing landmark legislation with Pelosi would reinforce Trump's standing with the center and signing a transformative infrastructure bill will make Trump nearly unbeatable in 2020.


Why would Pelosi give Trump such victory? Today she wouldn't. Why? Because as of today Trump looks weak in the polls and Democrats have the faint hope of impeachment to hold on to. This is why Trump pulled away from the table earlier this year. At this point he has no leverage.


But as the saying goes, sometimes you have to give time time. By the beginning of next year a few things may become clear that will begin to force Pelosi's hand. First she will lack any significant legislative accomplishments for her House caucus to run on. Keep in mind the reason she holds the gavel is that many moderates won in Republican districts saying they were going to Washington to get things done not pursue investigations.


By early 2020 it will also be clear that impeachment is a pipe dream. If it hasn't happened by January next year, it ain't happening. The resistance crew is still going to turnout so that isn't really a major concern for Pelosi but without impeachment her majority will have accomplished nothing.


The last driver will likely be the uncertain path to victory for the Democrat nominee, particularly if it's Biden. If the Durham investigation is producing results, Biden will be on his heals. Pelosi, for all her faults, is a shrewd political calculator. By the beginning of next year, she will see that a Biden victory is a long shot and the only counter to Trump will be Democrats maintaining control of the House.


So Trump's job over the next six months is to keep the economy moving along and maintain momentum in foreign policy. How will he insure the economy keeps growing? Trade deals. Trump likely already has the framework of a deal with China. He keeps telling us that China wants to make the deal. It will happen. Then the last piece of this plan to gain leverage on Pelosi, which is actually tied to the China deal, is to move the North Korean denuclearization deal to the edge of completion.


If Trump can maneuver himself into that position, then he will have what he currently lacks, leverage. Both he and Pelosi will have strong motivation to work together on infrastructure. Achieving that would mean Trump will be a virtual lock to win reelection and will likely mean the Democrats hold the House. This outcome, assuming it is paired with the Republicans maintaining their control of the Senate, would also set the stage for a comprehensive immigration bill in 2021.

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