WASHINGTON ― President Donald Trump’s domestic and foreign policies are sounding a lot like everything Republicans accused his predecessor, Barack Obama, of doing.
From offering federal bailouts to certain industries, to picking winners and losers, to appeasing our adversaries while antagonizing our allies, Trump is successfully accomplishing many of the things that GOP lawmakers claimed to hate with a Democrat occupying the White House.
On Tuesday, the Trump administration announced that it is planning to release billions of dollars in aid for U.S. farmers in order to help protect them from the repercussions of trade spats the Trump administration itself had started with China, the European Union, and other countries. Last month, Trump similarly called for a regulatory bailout for struggling coal power plants as part of an effort to prop up an industry he promised to save during his presidential campaign.
The move ― which essentially amounts to a federal bailout for the farm industry ― was met with bipartisan criticism on Capitol Hill, as well as astonishment from some Democrats who for years had listened to Republicans excoriate the Obama administration over its stimulus and auto bailout.
“They are now in the process of taking the same actions that they ... ” Sen. Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.) began, before pausing to chuckle. “Actually, Obama didn’t even do this. This is essentially ― you’ve got Trump taking these steps that Republicans railed against for years.”
“Consistency is hardly a common feature of this administration. They’re like the Washington weather when it comes to tariffs,” Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) added, alluding to the nasty and haphazard weather in the nation’s capital this week.
Republicans often criticized the Obama administration for “picking winners and losers” with its tax and regulatory policies and accused him of engaging in “crony capitalism” by offering federal guarantees to California-based solar company Solyndra, for example.
“Picking winners and losers in the economy through spending, through tax breaks, through regulations does not work,” House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) said in 2012 while running for vice president.
But Trump has repeatedly targeted private businesses, often with his Twitter account, in ways that often lead to those companies losing millions of dollars in market value. Trump’s attacks against Amazon, for example, have cost the company billions of dollars in market cap as investors sold off stock. Last month, Trump railed against a local Virginia restaurant that asked his spokeswoman Sarah Sanders to leave the venue in protest of the president’s policies.
The GOP’s favorite knock about Obama, however, many have been how he failed to lead on the world stage and how his policies had allowed America’s adversaries to thrive.
“Our allies don’t trust us; our enemies don’t fear us; and the world doesn’t know where America stands,” Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) said in a 2015 ad while running for president, criticizing Obama for being too deferential to Iran’s supreme leader.
Yet Trump may have done more to upend the post-World War II global order in the last two weeks than anything Obama had done in his whole time in office. Trump’s attacks and statements casting doubt on the purpose of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization have angered traditional U.S. allies, while his cozying up to dictators around the world like Russian President Vladimir Putin has rankled the U.S. intelligence community. Trump’s stunning performance during a press conference after a summit with Putin in Helsinki last week was dubbed “one of the most disgraceful performances by an American president at a summit in front of a Russian leader.”
On trade, at least, Trump has angered Republican lawmakers in ways that many of his other controversial statements and policies have not. But on that issue, too, they have so far been unable or unwilling to take any meaningful action to rein in the president’s authority to levy tariffs. Earlier this month, the Senate passed by a vote of 88-11 a motion aimed at limiting some of Trump’s trade moves. But the measure was nonbinding and has no force of law.
“I think in this case what the president’s trying to do, his goal in terms of free trade, that’s admirable, and I think a lot of people will support that,” Sen. Mike Rounds (R-S.D.) told HuffPost on Tuesday. “The question is the tactics being used. I don’t think many of us are in favor of the tactics being used right now ... [but] we may not be much we can do about it at this point.”
Republicans have refused to take more drastic measures available to them to force Trump’s hand on tariffs, however, such as blocking judicial nominations or withholding votes on other legislative matters. Their criticism has instead been contained to sharply worded statements and expressions of disapproval ― a strategy that has shown little effect on the president.
“This is becoming more and more like a Soviet-type of economy here: Commissars deciding who’s going to be granted waivers, commissars in the administration figuring out how they’re going to sprinkle around benefits,” Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wis.) told Politico on Tuesday. “I’m very exasperated. This is serious.”
Correction: This article incorrectly identified Sen. Richard Blumenthal as a Republican.