Trump Is Running Out of Personnel Choices

(Bloomberg View) -- President Donald Trump is supposed to officially commit the U.S. to his new steel and aluminum tariffs today. Unless, of course, he doesn't; it's hard to tell with this administration. 

It's a good time to revisit something I wrote back in January about whether Trump in his second year is going to retreat from one of his big first-year themes of sacrificing most everything for short-term economic gains. As I said then, "When orthodox conservative doctrine called for measures likely to help the economy in the short run, Trump was on board; when orthodox conservative doctrine called for restraint, Trump would choose policies likely to help the economy in the short run."

But Trump began 2018 with solar panel protectionism and a very short government shutdown, leaving me to wonder whether things were changing. 

It's still not clear. Flirting with a trade war is much more dangerous than anything he did economically last year. On the other hand, the danger of a deficit limit breach is gone, and it's unlikely there will be another government shutdown anytime soon. The deficit-busting spending agreement reached in Congress should be expansionary. 

What does seem more risky is the breakdown in stability within the White House on economic policy with the exit of Gary Cohn and the general chaos that seems to once again be the case there. It's true, as my Bloomberg View colleague Daniel Moss says, that the National Economic Council hasn't always been very important. But both the NEC and the system instituted by the White House chief of staff to control paper and Oval Office traffic does appear to have been generally successful in reining in some of Trump's impulsiveness, especially with regard to the economy. Now Trump has lost Cohn, and the system seems to have broken down with the exit of former staff secretary Rob Porter and John Kelly's more precarious position.

It's not that Cohn was particularly irreplaceable. Nor was Porter, or Kelly if it comes to that.

But Trump's personnel judgment has always been shaky. And there's good reason to believe that he'll have less and less access to first-rate people over time. As a president who has always been particularly vulnerable to being swayed by those around him who are hired for reasons other than policy, that's a dangerous combination. 

I guess where that leaves us is there's really no way to tell whether Trumpism will still be about short-run economic growth in Year Two. We'll just have to wait and see what the next economic team wants to do. 

1. Alexandra Guisinger at the Monkey Cage on public opinion on Trump's tariffs

2. Erin Cassese and R. Scott Crichlow at Mischiefs of Faction on partisanship and labor in West Virginia.

4. My Bloomberg View colleague Cass R. Sunstein on Trump's autocratic attitude toward the institutions of the U.S. government. 

5. Jonathan Chait makes a fair point about the House Intelligence Committee Republicans

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Jonathan Bernstein is a Bloomberg View columnist. He taught political science at the University of Texas at San Antonio and DePauw University and wrote A Plain Blog About Politics.

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