Mar 10, 2019

Scoop: The White House triangulation plan

Illustration: Lazaro Gamio/Axios

Senior Trump administration officials are crafting a plan ahead of the president's re-election bid that sounds like a blend of Bill Clinton's "triangulation" and Barack Obama's "pen and a phone."

The big picture: The plan — which acting chief of staff Mick Mulvaney and policy staff are developing, and which is in its early stages — would have Trump sign a series of executive orders on issues including education, drug pricing, the opioid epidemic and veterans affairs. Aides say the moves would appeal to Democrats and Republicans.

What's next? White House officials have already drafted some of these executive orders, and the White House Counsel's office has started vetting them. Officials familiar with the planning say they think most Americans will back them, as was the case with criminal justice reform.

  • White House officials have been tight-lipped about the content of the orders, so it's way too early to say if they will be substantive or just political theater.

The plan is still in its infancy, sources cautioned. "It gives the president the chance to take actions that go over the heads of and can be done without Congress," said a source familiar with the planning.

An early example of the strategy: On Tuesday, Trump signed an executive order "on a National Roadmap to Empower Veterans and End Suicide." The order called for a "Task Force," "roadmap" and "national research strategy" to "end the national tragedy of veteran suicide."

It's also an early example of the potential pitfalls. Task forces, road maps and national strategies don't exactly get people's blood running.

The emerging strategy assumes that Congress won't pass any legislation to advance Trump's agenda.

  • And the plans are coalescing as Trump's polling numbers sag with women and independents.

But it has some major, immediate hurdles.

  • First, you can't exactly break out the confetti cannon over a bunch of new task forces.
  • Second, centrist issues rarely excite the president. So even if he makes meaningful moves, his aides may still have to battle to get him to capitalize on them.

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