An odd thing about the president—and this has contributed to the general lostness of Washington—is that he doesn’t perform a primary and obvious function of presidents, which is to argue for things. You make a decision, unveil a program, and make a case for its excellence. The other side then argues back. In the ensuing back-and-forth, voters get the contours of what’s being proposed.
This president doesn’t argue, he only announces. He asserts. Previous presidents in their early speeches were always making the case for a certain advancement. Not to do so is a waste of the biggest mic in the world.
The populists or economic nationalists of the Trump administration have, on some level and at the moment, swept the party. Now they’re trying to own it. But you don’t hear from them much about the meaning and content of their endeavor. And the symbolism that keeps cropping up around the White House, or rather Mar-a-Lago, is odd. In Palm Beach, Fla., cabinet members and top administration officials swept into the birthday party of Steve Schwarzman, chairman of the president’s Strategic and Policy Forum. It was black tie, lavish, with trapeze artists and “a massive fireworks display on the Intracoastal Waterway,” as Town & Country reported. Mr. Schwarzman has been admired in this space for his great generosity to Catholic education. And it’s his money, as they say. But it is odd to see such un-self-conscious excess when you’re thinking Populist New Wave.
Early word on the president’s budgetary framework is also startling, and adds to the confusion. He’ll cut waste, he says. Good. Beyond that, his plans sound pretty standard Republican. But Mr. Trump didn’t campaign as a standard Republican. He didn’t stress slashing funding or forcing down the debt. It is legitimate to wonder if Republicans in Congress are trying to tug the White House more toward what used to be called green-eyeshade Republicanism—“we’re just a bunch of accountants and bean-counters”—and away from more Trumpian campaign vows such as infrastructure spending.