Donald Trump rolled out his budget yesterday, causing howls of protests from Democrats and progressives. The budget would cut the EPA and State Department by about 30% each. It eliminates funding for Meals on Wheels, PBS, after-school programs and other liberal favorites. Even Republicans are shying away from it.
The budget isn’t meant to pass, though. It serves two purposes for Trump. First, it’s targeted to his supporters who elected him to turn government upside down. Second, it provides cover for Republicans in Congress when the real cuts come down.
Trump’s core supporters elected him to cause massive disruption in the system. He’s keeping his word to them. He’s proposing deep and damaging cuts and the liberal establishment is howling. The louder they howl, the more his supporters like it. When the cuts fail to materialize, Trump will blame it on Democrats or maybe Republicans in Congress. The point is, he’s taking on the system and his supporters are eating it up.
Trump is also playing politics. His cuts look so draconian, he’s setting up Congressional Republicans to look rational when they propose slightly fewer cuts that still reshape much of the federal government. Conservative activists weighed in applauding the cuts to social programs, including Meals on Wheels. In a tweet, conservative blogger Erick Erickson brought back the mantra of “personal responsibility,” a phrase we heard a lot back in the welfare reform debates of the 1990s and 1980s.
Ironically, Trump’s cuts would disproportionally hurt the rural residents who made up the core of his base. His budget would slash the Department of Agriculture by 20%. It would eliminate loan programs for rural businesses as well as loans and grants for rural water and sewer treatment facilities. It also eliminates subsidies for rural airports. All of these services help economic development in the more distressed areas of the country where his base resides.
Trump is a showman. He’s less interested in results than applause. For instance, he probably doesn’t really care if his Muslim ban is actually implemented as long as his supporters know that he proposed it. He got headlines a few weeks ago for rounding up and deporting immigrants. The scream from the left just amplified the message he was sending to his base. Likewise, he’s less concerned with passing his budget than letting his fans know that he’s submitted it. The louder the protests, they happier they’ll be.
At the same time, the GOP leaders in Congress get to look like the responsible players to people less enamored with Trump. They’ll save high-profile programs like Meals on Wheels while making deep cuts in less prominent programs. They can still reshape government while looking like they’re protecting favored programs.
It’s all a big ruse. Trump lives by the rule, “You can fool some of the people all of the time.”