Trump 101: What he means by “America first” - Axios
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Trump 101: What he means by “America first”

Photo Illustration Greg Ruben / Axios

You hear "populism" all the time, but that's the wrong label for President Trump's vague ideology. A better one: America-first, Trump-style nationalism.

When you parse his Inaugural address — and watch the unmistakable prominence and power of deeper-thinking nationalists like chief strategist Steve Bannon, policy guru Stephen Miller and Attorney General-in-waiting Jeff Sessions — you see a Trump form of nationalism emerging.

What Trump believes: According to advisers, Trump's core beliefs boil down to pro-America, pro-U.S. jobs, pro-strong-borders. One of those advisers told us that while Trump might not think much about philosophy or specifics, he's the perfect vehicle to carry their ideas because he has an intuitive sense of how to sell them, especially to the white working class.

Its origin: Trump has bounced all over the place on most issues. But he has been a fairly consistent critic of trade deals, outsourcing and China. Starting several years back, Bannon, Miller and others searched for a vessel for their more fully formed version of nationalism, just as a similar wave swept across Europe. Trump embraced the notion, if not the specifics, and the inauguration speech was the advisers' victory lap. It was also Trump's fullest public embrace of it.

Its clout in Trump White House: The true believers share views that run counter to the Paul Ryan-wing of the GOP on everything from immigration and infrastructure spending, to bullying corporations. They are anti-"corporatists" who want to methodically destroy conventional conservatism. The group includes Bannon, Miller, son-in-law Jared Kushner, Sessions and his top adviser, Jeff Dearborn, Peter Navarro (the head of the National Trade Council), Wilbur Ross, the longtime Trump friend and Commerce Secretary-nominee, and others. They have planted true believers throughout the White House, so the roots run deep and will soon run deeper.

The policy ideas that will define it:

  • Trade: The White House is intent on slapping tariffs (or the equivalent) on imports from Mexico and other nations. Trump genuinely feels the United States gets shafted in trade deals such as NAFTA, and his team plans to use tax reform and other openings to impose penalties on imports. This is also about gaining leverage over China for all upcoming talks about currency and trade practices.
    • Interesting subplot: We hear the House Speaker is privately referring to his tariff-like border adjustment policy — crucial to raising revenue via taxing imports — as "responsible nationalism." He's speaking Bannon's language.
  • Infrastructure: On trade and infrastructure in particular, many Trump aides proudly say they are closer to Bernie Sanders than Paul Ryan. Watch for a very high-profile push for huge spending on U.S. infrastructure executed by U.S. workers, using U.S. products. The Bannon wing believes minorities who benefit from this spending will open their eyes and minds to Trump's politics. This also see it as a way to jam Republican leaders into rethinking their pro-business-at-all-cost mentality.
  • The wall: Trump told us in our interview last week he will use existing law to force a fast start to building a big stretch of wall on the Mexican border. At the same time, he said he can't imagine deporting fewer illegal immigrants than President Obama did in 2016. That said, he seemed to soften his tone on deportation to put the emphasis on a wall built by U.S. workers.
  • NATO: Trump and his base love attacking NATO member nations for relying on U.S. security without kicking in their fair share of troops or money. He's not likely to change NATO itself much but he will escalate the fight Obama and others started to force others to contribute more to the cause.
  • China: This is a core obsession of nationalists internally. All other topics overseas are small ball to them. They talk of dismantling the bipartisan, Henry Kissinger-esque strategy of cautious harmony. Instead, they want to force U.S. interests to the forefront on trade, currency and security. They are true believers in the arguments made by defense experts such as Michael Pillsbury, author of "The Hundred-Year Marathon: China's Secret Strategy to Replace America as the Global Superpower," that this is an existential fight for the nation's future. Bannon, a Navy veteran, is a student of China's provocative and expansive activities in the South China Sea, a source close to him emphasized.
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EPA chief: Paris climate pact is "a bad deal"

Susan Walsh / AP

Scott Pruitt, the EPA administrator, offered a glimpse into how the Trump administration views the Paris Climate accord on ABC's "This Week."

"What was wrong with Paris was not just that it was, you know, failed to be treated as a treaty, but China and India, the largest producers of CO2 internationally, got away scot-free. They didn't have to take steps until 2030. So we've penalized ourselves through lost jobs while China and India didn't take steps to address the issue internationally. So Paris was just a bad deal, in my estimation."

He said the Paris pact represented the "anti-jobs and anti-growth" Obama-era policies.

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Hundreds arrested at Russia anti-corruption protests

Evgeny Feldman for Navalny campaign via AP

Hundreds were arrested at large anti-corruption protests in Moscow and other Russian cities on Sunday, including opposition leader Alexei Navalny.

The protests came after Navalny leveled accusations of corruption against Prime Minister Dmitri Medvedev. They appeared to be the largest demonstrations in Russia since 2012.

Also arrested was Alec Luhn, an American correspondent for the Guardian.

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NYT: "Knives are out" for Gary Cohn

Andrew Harnik / AP

The NYT's Maggie Haberman reports that the "knives are out" for Gary Cohn, the former Goldman Sachs president who now serves as one of Trump's top advisers. Politico's Ben White names a leading conspirator: Steve Bannon.

The feud between emerging White House factions (Jared, Ivanka, Cohn and Dina Powell on one side, Bannon, Priebus and Stephen Miller on the other) has been bubbling over into media reports.

Cohn has Trump's ear, but he's a registered Democrat who doesn't share Bannon's vision of economic nationalism and the "deconstruction of the administrative state", as well as a competitor for power.

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Trump dreams of Democrats

Susan Walsh / AP

White House aides are so doubtful about uniting warring factions of House Republicans that they now are debating how they could lure 15 or so Democrats to join Republicans on big measures:

  • The White House euphemism, as aides discuss the strategy internally: "a broader coalition."
  • The theory: If you could fold in a few Dems with moderate and establishment Republicans, you'd have a better chance of passing tax reform or a huge infrastructure bill.
  • A White House official: "Typically, tax reform would be something that could be bipartisan. That would really be our hope."
  • The road not taken: Some Trump friends think he has made a huge mistake since the inauguration by antagonizing Dems rather than courting them. Because of his tweets and rants, they're less likely to give him the benefit of the doubt than they were Jan. 20, and any ambitious Dem who tried to work with him would get fiercer blowback from the base.
  • Plan B? A longtime Trump confidant said the irony of the loss "is that there is a scenario where this path leads POTUS to realize that he is better off building a coalition with moderate Rs and some reasonable Ds ... [I]t is totally who he naturally is, and he would love the accolades and positive feedback and improving numbers."
  • Why it's unlikely: White House officials understand that Ds sense weakness and have no incentive to help bail out Trump.
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Trump reportedly gave Merkel a bill for £300 billion

Evan Vucci / AP

President Trump reportedly gave German Chancellor Angela Merkel an invoice for over £300 billion in what he deems to be owed contributions to NATO, per The Times of London.

Using 2002 as a starting point — the year Merkel's predecessor Gerhard Schröder pledged to increase defense spending — U.S. officials allegedly calculated the extent to which German defense spending had fallen short of the 2% of GDP target that NATO requires, added the amount together, and then charged interest. Trump has also reportedly asked his staff to prepare similar calculations for all other NATO members below the 2% target.

Merkel is said to have "ignored the provocation", but has vowed to raise German defense spending gradually.

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Trump's 360 on Mark Meadows and the Freedom Caucus

AP

A new piece in the New York Times Magazine illustrates how confident President Trump was that he could get the Freedom Caucus and chairman Mark Meadows onside over health care, before the "30 guys in control of the government" tanked the plan.

Trump on March 7:

Mark Meadows is a great guy and a friend of mine. I don't think he'd ever disappoint me, or the party. I think he's great. No, I would never call him out on Twitter.

Trump this morning:

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Trump vs the Freedom Caucus

Alex Brandon / AP

Trump began his Sunday morning with a Tweet:

A top White House official said Trump is "deeply disappointed in the Freedom Caucus," and specifically with Chairman Mark Meadows (R-N.C.).

The senior Republican operative said the hardline House Freedom Caucus "just proved that you have 30 guys in control of the government."

"They have been given power by the circumstances, and they're wielding it," the operative said. "Their view is: 'We got rid of a Speaker [Boehner], we're taking on another Speaker, and we stared down the president.'"

Good Cop was a flop: White House aides are debating whether they should have be more aggressive with the hardliners, including flying into their districts and threatening them with primaries.

"Something in this dynamic has to change," the operative said. "Nobody has taken them on or held them accountable or even mildly messed with them. One of the things you could do is say, on Twitter and in their districts: Obamacare is still the law of the land because of them."

Meadows responds on ABC's "This Week": If Democrats are applauding "they shouldn't... we are in a negotiation process."

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Priebus: We might work with Dems on Trumpcare

Pablo Martinez Monsivais / AP

White House chief of staff Reince Priebus says it might be time to work with moderate Democrats on health care — and suggested it was a "warning shot" to conservative Republicans after the House had to pull the bill to repeal and replace Obamacare.

"Everything's on the table. We'll give these guys another chance," Priebus said on Fox News Sunday this morning. "If we can come up with a bill that accomplishes the goals of the president and Republicans alone, then we'll take it and we'll move forward with it." But for now, Priebus said, the White House is moving on to tax reform and Trump's budget.

I think it's more or less a warning shot that we're willing to talk to anyone. We always have been.

House Ways and Means Committee chairman Kevin Brady, however, said on Fox News' Sunday Morning Futures that the House is "turning-the-page" and that Obamacare's taxes will stay in place. A repeal-only bill, Brady said, would be a "show vote" because it would require eight Democrats in the Senate, and "that's not going to happen."

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Priebus: "I’m not in any trouble" over health care collapse

Alex Brandon / AP

Reine Priebus dismissed reports that he is on the chopping block over the failure of the health care bill on Fox News Sunday:

I'm not in any trouble. I've got a great relationship with the president, we talk all the time. Just before coming on the set he gave me a call…. This is gossip, and it's always going to happen.

His comments come after the New York Times reported that blame for the health care disaster was falling on the chief of staff's shoulders.

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Obama's post-presidency: island hopping and memoir writing

Jose Luis Magana / AP

The Washington Post has taken a look this morning at what the Obamas have been up to since leaving the White House. Here's what they found:

Where in the world is Barack Obama: "... he jetted off in a Gulfstream G550 to Tetiaroa, a South Pacific island once owned by Marlon Brando. He plans an extended stay there to start writing his White House memoir."

  • The Obamas have re-decorated their Kalorama home "to suit their modern style" and are working out of a West End office when in DC
  • Fifteen staffers, including Valerie Jarrett, work there, "helping to build Obama's foundation." He's also planning his presidential library in Chicago
  • Michelle is spending more time in Washington, writing her on book and "remaining focused on the home front".

Recall: The Obamas' book deal is reportedly worth $60+ million, so it's no surprise that they're keen to start writing.