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Outsiders vs. Insiders: To “win” the political game, Trump must get a chance to play

It’s something we hear a lot these days, whether we’re “winning” or “losing” at some endeavor -- the former being preferable to the latter, of course.

But in the broader sense, what does it mean to “win” in politics?

Donald TrumpIn the sports world “winning” is much easier to characterize. If a baseball team has more runs than its opponents after nine complete innings, that’s a “win.” Likewise if a football team has more points than the other team when time expires, it’s a “win.” And if a beauty pageant participant received higher scores from the judges than every other contestant, she’s a “winner” (as opposed to a runner-up).

But what about the political realm? Can you “win” by confirming a Supreme Court Justice, repealing a costly regulation or passing a bill through the congressional reconciliation process? Did Obama and the Democrats “beat” the Republicans when they passed the disastrous Obamacare bill in 2010?

Perhaps; but they then “lost” control of Congress in subsequent elections.

Throughout his campaign Donald Trump promised America would do so much “winning” if he were elected that we’d all get tired of it. Was he correct? Are we “winning” today?

Erick Erickson doesn’t think so. He wrote the other day at The Resurgent, “I try to be as supportive as I can, when I can, of the President’s agenda, but I don’t really think he, we, or the nation are winning. ‘Beat the left’ has become the mantra of much of the right, but right now it seems Trump supporters are not really beating except off — if you’ll excuse the bluntness.

“The Trump Train has an orgasm every time the President tweets out an attack at someone and wastes vast amounts of emotional energy telling the President his poop does not stink. A vast amount of money is now being spent on cheaply produced television to tell the President’s supporters all is well and reassure the President he is awesome. But the Emperor’s clothes seem mighty see through these days.”

Erickson’s known to produce a crude headline or two from time to time but this particular screed is a bit over-the-top even for him and arguably is not suitable for a family show. But beyond Erick’s inappropriate language it’s necessary to address his larger point about “winning” and whether conservatives and Republicans who support Trump are merely doing so only to satisfy our baser instincts – or, put another way, does Trump and his administration really deserve our continued backing?

In pondering the concept of “winning” versus not winning, is Trump putting enough points on the board to merit fan patronage of him and his team?

There isn’t an easy answer to this question since politics really isn’t similar to sports and it’s not like you can simply haul out your device and check the score every so often as my kids do when we’re on the road and everyone’s dying to know how the (Washington) Nationals are faring at the moment.

Politics and government success isn’t quantifiable, though plenty of people – including Trump himself to some extent – use opinion polls as a measuring stick. The public’s attitudes ebb and flow on political matters and there are a ton of factors that go into pronouncing an opinion on a topic or candidate or elected official. In Trump’s case, people could be weighing in on his latest tweets, the quality of his family’s businesses, his ability to deal with leaders in Congress or the way he greeted a foreign leader last week.

It’s a great big jumbled ball of considerations that go into approval ratings.

“Do you approve of the president’s job performance, yes or no?”

Someone could easily break the question down to different parts of the “game.” Again, using baseball as an analogy, maybe the Trump administration’s starting pitchers (cabinet officers) are top notch but his bullpen (“Deep State” Obama holdovers) is awful. Or maybe his cleanup hitter (Jeff Sessions) is on the disabled list. Or the team made a trade (Sean Spicer for “The Mooch”) that didn’t produce results. Or they ran into a hot opponent (Obamacare repeal) at the wrong time. Or the front office (the establishment) only cares about pleasing the owners (donors) – or worse, wants the team to lose (like in the movie The Natural).

In some senses politics isn’t really all that different than sports. Continuing with baseball, Trump’s “team” -- a.k.a. congressional Republicans -- aren’t really carrying their weight in the game. Some of them are making egregious errors in the field (the “moderates” in the House Tuesday Group) while others are striking out at home plate (Senators John McCain and Lisa Murkowski, among many).

It’s impossible to “win” when players are underperforming and it doesn’t matter if it’s on the baseball diamond or up on Capitol Hill.

Erickson concluded his piece, “Republicans have been so busy trying to beat the left, they have ceded the international field to Russia and China and have domestically run out of ideas and policy victories to justify their continued hold on power. But never fear. Today, President Trump will hear that nothing is wrong, all is well, and no one is yet tired of winning. His supporters are so invested in the lie, the truth will eventually be a painful discovery.”

Erickson published a lot of highly critical commentary on Trump during last year’s campaign so it’s not surprising he sees the glass is less than half-full now. But in his attack on Trump supporters I’m not sure what Erickson expects in terms of playing a “winning” game. To me, the Trump “Make America Great Again” contest is only in the first few innings and it isn’t yet time to pull the team off the field, pack up and wait for next season.

Other commentators see things more positively than Erickson. Some see Trump’s substantive victories and glimpse potential in his administration if he could temper some of the bad points – and get his teammates to cooperate.

Scott Barron wrote at City Journal, “Trump’s biggest problem is, paradoxically, the quality he touted as his greatest strength. ‘I’m going to surround myself only with the best and most serious people,’ he explained to the Washington Post while campaigning last year. And many of his Cabinet-level appointments have been excellent.

“But unlike beauty pageant production or real-estate development, the ‘deliverables’ in a presidential administration are less tangible, and the rules and standards of staff performance are harder to measure in politics than in business. ‘Personnel is policy’ means more than hiring people with the same policy goals: it means that without cohesion of purpose and, yes, loyalty, a team is nothing but a set of competing personal agendas. Through whatever formula he or his advisors used, Trump has taken the idea of a dialectically energized ‘team of rivals’ and created in the West Wing a battle royal, or a game of musical chairs played to machine-gun accompaniment.”

It’s certainly hard to “win” under those circumstances but I can’t help but wonder whether Barron is overstating the extent of the internal conflicts, at least on the White House side. Vice President Mike Pence is a constant steady presence and now that General John Kelly is in charge of managing the president’s staff and schedule there will no doubt be a big improvement in discipline and morale.

A good “manager” is essential to every team and unless the players have respect, reverence – and to some extent, fear – for him or her, you’re not going to “win” many competitions.

Some might say the recent turnover at the White House is indicative of a team in trouble. But for those paying attention, Trump’s female staffers seem to be ascending.

Tiana Lowe observed at National Review, “…[F]or all of the progressive blathering that Trump is the worst thing to happen to women since kitchens and sandwiches, as Annie Karni at Politico notes, Trump’s female staffers and advisers have fared far better than the men.

“Hope Hicks, Kellyanne Conway, and Omarosa Manigault have all maintained not only stability, Karni observes, but also the president’s favor. Dina Powell was on the shortlist to be promoted to chief of staff, and Sarah Huckabee Sanders actually has been promoted to press secretary, the first mom to ever achieve that position. While Donald Trump Jr. has failed miserably to explain his dealings with the Russian government, Ivanka has mostly avoided controversy.”

Maybe that’s the key to “winning” in the media’s eye – promote all the women and jettison the men who aren’t helping to carry the load.

Whatever the formula, success in the Trump administration will be measured by his accomplishments and not by the hailstorm of negative commentary that seems to accompany his every move. The voters will be the ones keeping score and right now it’s apparent that most of those who wanted Trump in office still support him.

The “game” is only in its opening stages and right now it’s next to impossible to determine who’s going to “win”. The people bet on Trump and it’s not time to make a personnel swap at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. Even if we’re not yet “winning,” we certainly aren’t “losing” either.

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