The disastrous rollout of President Donald Trump’s clampdown on refugees and visitors from majority-Muslim countries wasn’t how his supporters were expecting his administration to begin. While it was a cornerstone of his election campaign, it was poorly thought out, with little consideration given to the inevitable legal challenges, protests and political backlash.
If this seems somewhat familiar, you need only recall President Barack Obama’s disastrous launch of the Affordable Care Act, a piece of legislation the administration strained to get through Congress. The website was unusable and crashed constantly, and was widely recognized as a costly and avoidable error. It was obvious that the people in charge hadn’t thought this through and failed to stress test the site. It tarnished perceptions of both the program and the administration’s cherished reputation for competence.
At the time Obama took office, health-care expansion wasn’t the most pressing issue; in the midst of the financial meltdown, it was banking reform. This was a case of misplaced priorities. As former White House chief of staff (and current mayor of Chicago) Rahm Emanuel used to say, “you never want a serious crisis go to waste.” But that was exactly what the Obama White House did, focusing on health-care expansion instead of taking advantage of the narrow window to implement a full regulatory reform of Wall Street. It was an enormous miscalculation.
By failing to act boldly on financial reform, the Obama team allowed a smoldering resentment to take hold and build among the public. The massive taxpayer wealth transfer to bankers who should have lost their jobs sowed the seeds of the backlash that fueled the rise of the Tea Party, and led to the huge electoral losses for the Democratic Party and Trump’s November victory.
Fast forward to 2017. It looks as if Trump is making a similar error by focusing on immigration first — and in an ill-considered and misguided way — instead of making tax reform his biggest priority.
In terms of economic impact, nothing is going to beat the combination of a corporate tax overhaul, repatriation of overseas profits and individual tax reform. Add the $1 trillion infrastructure plan discussed during the campaign and you have the makings of an economic program that might help growth for a decade. It seems deeply misguided for Trump not to make this the centerpiece of his new administration.