The Danger of Attempting to Harness Trumpism Without Trump

The Danger of Attempting to Harness Trumpism Without Trump

Fun fact: it won’t work.

None of this should come as a surprise given that Trump appointed Chad Wolf to helm the Department of Homeland Security. Wolf served as a paid immigration lobbyist for the National Association of Software and Service Companies, a trade body of Indian firms. He failed to push for more funding to build the border wall while lavishing cash on unconstitutional sanctuary cities—money that was in his power to withhold. Wolf also used his discretionary powers to approve thousands of extra H-2B visas on April 1, amid an unemployment crisis caused by pandemic containment measures. Only explosive outrage forced a reversal on his part.

The irony of the pandemic is that it actually improved Trump’s immigration agenda and record. 

In the early days of 2020, Kushner and Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) launched an effort to increase the number of EB-5 visas by 650 percent and lower the investment threshold to $450,000 from $900,000. The program is rife with fraud and dominated by Chinese investors, effectively allowing them to buy citizenship. The pandemic killed the EB-5 push, as it did Wolf's extra H-2B visas. By the end of Wolf’s tenure, Americans did not get a border wall, but the construction efforts did blast ravines into mountains that have reportedly become new highways for illegal immigration.

Put plainly, the overall decrease in legal immigration was largely a product of a shuttered world and not a genius Trump tactic. Apart from immigration, the pandemic could have been an opportunity to harden domestic supply chains, as Japan did. Instead, Kushner’s pandemic response consisted of turning to McKinsey & Company management consultants and relying on China for health care supplies that should be made domestically.

The economy was arguably Trump’s greatest achievement, but the myth and reality are different even there. For example, though he lauded overseeing growth for low-wage workers and those just above them, that pay boost was, in no small part, attributable to state minimum wage increases across the country.

An analysis of Labor Department data by the National Employment Law Project (NELP) shows the real, inflation-adjusted median hourly pay rose 3.8 percent in states where the minimum wage increased. Real median pay fell by half a percentage point in the twenty-four states without a minimum wage raise. Between May 2017 to May 2018, real wages increased 2.4 percent for the bottom fifth of workers in states with minimum wage increases versus 0.26 percent for workers in states where pay floors remained unchanged. “The big increase in low-wage workers’ pay is largely the result of the fight by low-paid workers to raise the minimum wage across the country,” senior NELP researcher and policy analyst Irene Tung told USA Today.

Based on United States Census Bureau data, an October 2020 Capital & Main analysis found national median family income growth during Trump’s first three years was virtually identical to the growth rate in the last three years of Barack Obama’s presidency. Median household income growth slowed during Trump’s first three years to 2.1 percent annually compared with 2.6 percent during Obama’s last three years. Measured by typical household income, which includes households with single people and unrelated people living together, “26 states saw slower growth under Trump even before the pandemic—including in half of the 2020 battleground states,” according to the analysis.

Trump won in 2016, in part, because he promised to end the job offshoring that blighted the lives of industrial swing state voters, sending their livelihoods abroad. However, a report published in late 2020 by the advocacy group Public Citizen found that hundreds of thousands of American jobs were offshored during his presidency and that the process was subsidized by taxpayers. 

By the time Trump sought reelection, approximately “311,427 American jobs had been government-certified as lost to trade during Trump’s presidency, with 202,543 explicitly listed as offshored.” The report also noted that eight out of the top ten firms receiving government contracts under Trump were government-certified as having offshored jobs. Further, at least “one of every four taxpayers’ dollars spent by the federal government on procurement contracts during the Trump administration went to the pockets of companies that offshored American jobs during his administration.”

Why? For one, the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act accelerated offshoring. And rather than investing revenues in better wages, which is what conservative economics holds should happen, corporations feasted on a stock-buyback buffet. In the end, Trump offshored more jobs in his first term than Obama.

Overall, Middle America got the economic shaft good and hard from Trump. According to figures from the nonpartisan Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy, Tim Dickinson, a contributing editor for Rolling Stone, reported, “the tax cut’s benefits to middle-wage earners worked out to about $65 a month.” Dickinson notes that “the income tax cuts will begin to phase out in 2025, and by 2027 many working-class wage earners will face a higher tax burden.” “Sandwiched” is a good term for what seems to have happened to Middle America.

Between 2016 to 2019, workers in the top 20 percent enjoyed five times the gains of workers in the bottom quintile and roughly 3.5 times the middle 60 percent’s gains. Gains for workers in the bottom 20 percent also surpassed those of middle-class workers. In February last year, citing an analysis by Capital & Main, Newsweek reported that middle-class incomes “grew at a rate of 2.7 percent from 2016 through 2018, compared to a 5.8 percent growth rate from 2014 through 2016 when accounting for inflation.” On the other hand, the corporations and CEOs that lobbied for more immigration, hijacked the White House’s policy agenda, and supported both the Black Lives Matter riots and pandemic measures that kneecapped small businesses struck gold.

Bezos added $13 billion to his net worth in one day and the median pay package for a CEO at an S&P 500 company soared to $12.7 million in 2020. Many of the members of Trump’s “Great American Economic Revival” industry groups went from providing moral and material support to rioters to marginalizing Trump supporters and allies after the 2020 election. Under Trump, the billionaires who paid a lower tax rate than Middle Americans for the first time in history ended up supporting Biden.

There is an argument now that Trump has learned from all these mistakes, that he is wise to the machinations of the swamp and sees the bad actors for who they truly are. However, what happened leading up to and since the November election proves this to be false.

Through the use of shell companies and vendors, Trump’s campaign squandered almost half its $1.26 billion war chest. Business Insider reported that the money moved indirectly to friends and allies of the Trump family. At the same time, amid close midwestern races, the campaign pulled ad buys from Ohio, Wisconsin, Iowa, and Michigan. Trump ended up losing three of those five states. Organizers elsewhere reported difficulty getting funds from the campaign, although it concluded with a surplus.

Between November 3 and January 31, Trump and the Republican Party reportedly raised $255.4 million from voters supposedly to overturn the election and save the country. Save America, Trump’s leadership PAC created after the November election, entered 2021 with $31 million cash on hand alone, a Federal Election Commission filing shows. The problem with that PAC is that it raised money for a cause it was legally prohibited from supporting.

“In the weeks following the November 3 election, President Trump asked donors to give to his ‘election defense fund,’ but in reality, the money raised flowed to Trump’s leadership PAC, which never paid for any post-election litigation and legally could not even do so,” Brendan Fischer, an expert in campaign finance and government ethics at the Campaign Legal Center, told American Greatness.

“One of the only restrictions on Trump’s leadership PAC is that it cannot be used to support Trump’s own campaign, including the costs of litigation arising out of his campaign,” Fischer added. “In short, Trump raised tens of millions of dollars on a claim that his PAC would do something that it was legally prohibited from doing all along.”

These fundraising efforts were often misleading, effectively preying on the most desperate. In some cases, Trump supporters were unwittingly enrolled in recurring donations that quietly drained their bank accounts. Refunds were paid from the tens of millions of dollars raised after the election. Journalist Shane Goldmacher accurately characterized the money refunded in this manner to an “interest-free loan from unwitting supporters at the most important juncture of the 2020 race.”

Trump’s endorsements further illustrate the point of non-learning. 

Sen. Jerry Moran (R-Kansas), endorsed by Trump, was instrumental in creating a weaponized hate crime bill introduced by Democrat Sen. Mazie Hirono of Hawaii. Sen. Tim Scott (R-S.C.), also endorsed by Trump, and now apparently the party’s figurehead, speaks of America's past as “original sin” and has embraced the Democratic Party’s call for more criminal justice reform from across the aisle. Most recently, Trump endorsed Rep. Elise Stefanik (R-N.Y.) to replace Sen. Liz Cheney (R-Wyo.) amid his feud with Paul Ryan. Stefanik is Ryan’s protégé, whose views on immigration are closer to Ryan’s than Trump's in 2016.