Over the past few days, Donald Trump has devoted a dismayingly large amount of time to a spirited back-and-forth with Democratic Rep. Frederica Wilson about whether he did or didn’t insult the widow of a soldier killed in Niger. He’s also continued his feud with NFL players who’ve chosen to kneel during the national anthem, he’s given shoutouts to a number of Fox News personalities, and he’s taken the time to insult various eminences from his ever-growing rogues’ gallery, including James Comey and Hillary Clinton, neither of whom pose any immediate challenge to his presidency. And in whatever time he has left over after dealing with these feuds, resentments, and fixations, he’s spoken about the need for a major tax overhaul, which is by all accounts his chief legislative priority.
While the president may think he’s got this governing thing under control, I’d still like to make a humble suggestion. Until Republicans in Congress pass a tax bill, Trump needs to relate every single one of his public utterances to advancing one of two causes: Make American Business Great Again and Tax Relief for Working Families. Given that this is a good idea, Trump will almost certainly not pursue it. But he should. Repeating these mantras ad infinitum—Making American Business Great Again and Tax Relief for Working Families, Making American Business Great Again and Tax Relief for Working Families—until they become an object of ridicule on the late-night talk shows, and until politicians of every stripe start offering their own clever variations on the same themes, would change how he’s perceived and lend greater clarity to the work being done by his entire administration. With time, when we think of Trump, we’d think of MABGA and TRWF.
Before we turn to why Trump ought to focus on these causes in particular, consider all the good that zeroing in on two causes would do for him. Throughout his presidential campaign, Trump did an able job of branding his opponents (Little Marco, Crooked Hillary, etc.) and of associating himself with large, nebulous themes, such as draining the swamp. As president, he’s had far less luck conjuring up this meme magic in part, one suspects, because of the sheer volume of inputs he’s receiving. I dare say Trump seems overwhelmed. Given that he’s spent decades running what is essentially a family business, this makes perfect sense. The executive branch is far more complex than the Trump Organization, and serving at the head of it is a lot less fun. Focusing on two causes won’t change that in any fundamental way. But it could give him a greater sense of control. As long as he’s talking about causes he’s hand-selected, he can feel like he’s on offense. And why two exactly? Given that Trump habitually sets off dozens of mini-controversies, two simple messages would come as sweet relief to his beleaguered White House, which badly wants its unpredictable captain to be just a tiny bit more predictable.
Why MABGA and TRWF? There’s a lot going on in the world. North Korea is on the move. Iraq is on the verge of yet another civil war. The climate is changing. As a political matter, however, Making American Business Great Again and Tax Relief for Working Families are the right way to go. Taken together, they’re a perfect fit for the Republican coalition as it is currently constituted.
Making American Business Great Again is essentially a peace offering to the GOP establishment, which fears that its devil’s bargain with Trump will come to naught if he fails to deliver on tax cuts. Every time Trump says MABGA, he will telegraph to GOP donors and business groups that he is on their side. At the same time, MABGA is a nonthreatening way of invoking other Trumpian themes, such as “Buy American and Hire American,” because of course great American businesses would enthusiastically do both.
Tax Relief for Working Families, meanwhile, is a message designed to appeal to working- and middle-class voters around the country, especially in the all-important Rust Belt. Ivanka Trump has been trying to win over these voters by pushing for an expanded child tax credit, and there is some reason to believe GOP lawmakers are getting on board with the idea, if only to ensure that their tax bill doesn’t wind up hiking taxes on large numbers of middle-income households. What’s been missing is an aggressive push by the president himself. Constant invocations of the need for TRWF would help solve that problem.
Granted, the ritualistic invocation of MABGA and TRWF is no guarantee that there’d be substance behind the mantras. MABGA could, as a policy matter, mean deep budget-busting cuts in corporate taxes that mostly benefit the already rich, or it could mean a more narrowly tailored approach focused on boosting businesses that create large numbers of high-wage, high-productivity jobs. Similarly, TRWF could mean tax cuts that don’t actually benefit working families all that much, or it could mean a greatly expanded child tax credit that helps millions of American families climb into middle-class stability. Regardless, speaking in these terms would give the president a more positive, unifying, and perhaps even uplifting message.
Imagine a replay of the past few days. Donald Trump would still accuse Frederica Wilson of being “wacky.” This time, however, he’d say something to the effect of “Wacky Democratic Congressman Frederica Wilson should work with me to deliver TAX RELIEF FOR WORKING FAMILIES in Florida’s 24th CD!!!!!!” That’s not exactly Churchillian. But it might be the best version of Donald Trump that we’re ever going to get.