Martin Gurri on the Trump Administration

He writes,

It’s a zero-sum struggle for attention that rewards the most immoderate voices – and, without question, Donald Trump is a master of the game. His unbridled language mobilizes his anti-elite followers, even as his policies appeal to more conventional Republicans and conservatives.

Read the whole thing.

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19 Responses to Martin Gurri on the Trump Administration

  1. Matthew Young says:

    Go through the list:
    LBJ? Don’t even think it.
    Nixon- Imperial paranoid.
    Carter – megalomaniac
    Reagan =alzheimer’s
    Bush Family-?

    I am not sure what the author considers a normal presidency when we have recessions on presidential regime change boundaries, clearly indicating the presidential regime is extremely costly, as viewed in the current era. A good president, by his definition, causes mass migrations, huge unemployment swings, and generation government bankruptcy.

  2. MikeW says:

    This is the passage I found most interesting:

    Politicians swept into office by the anti-establishment flood face an immediate dilemma. Once in government, they can continue to smash away at the institutions – but this will damage the economy and consequently their popularity. Alternatively, they can move to the mainstream and compromise with the elites – but this will damage their credibility and alienate their base of support. Few have found a way out of the labyrinth. Alexis Tsipras, to cite one example, tried each approach in turn and failed at both.

    Barack Obama evaded the dilemma by removing himself rhetorically an immense distance from the government over which he presided. He felt free to condemn and repudiate the evils of the system, such as economic inequality, while accepting no responsibility for ending them. (That the former president’s personal success did not extend to his governing coalition or the Democratic Party suggests that the forces of negation exacted their punishment nonetheless.)

    The bizarre schizoid style of the Trump administration becomes intelligible as an attempt to escape this dilemma. Elected as an agent of negation, President Trump must now promote positive policies and programs. Any direction he takes will alienate some of his supporters, who were bound together largely on the strength of their repudiations. A predilection for the mainstream will alienate most of them.

    • asdf says:

      The article takes for granted that elites have the “correct” views and policy prescriptions that lead to the best outcomes. Populism is the ignorant public getting in the way of the elite implementing this best of all possible worlds.

      If one doesn’t accept this view then the whole article is a waste of time.

      • collin says:

        Probably the biggest miss I had in the election was he was rallying against the Elite for the failures of the WWC and I never quite understood why that was the Clinton’s fault versus the Koch Brother’s (or Jeff Immelt) fault who actually decide to outsource manufacturing. (Or better yet why NAFTA which Reagan 1980s campaigned on was held so much against HRC. Of course, Hillary was such a poor campainger not to make this point strong enough.) So:

        1) I wish people would stop saying Trump won with working class voters. IT IS NOT TRUE.. HRC won every income level to 75K and Trump won all above. It was only the White Working Class here. (Yes I know their is some life cycle income levels working here but again Trump won with better off incomes.)

        2) The weirdest part of Trump is he is truly a Phantom Autocrat who mostly desires popularity not political power. So he can have autocrat tendencies but really does not act on them, the voter commission the most obvious, as he rather people simply hail him for every good happening be Stock market, ISIS (credit due here), or airline safety. (Whereas Obama autocratic tendencies was moving the goalpost 3 yards.)

        3) I still say if Trump lost his phone charger and made less statements his approvals would hit 50%.

        4) The other strange reality is it is the urban minorities whose has made the most gains in the Trump administration. (They were gaining the most in second Obama but accelerated during Trump.)

        5) It does seem like Trump still struggles to promote a positive agenda. I really think it is weird that he can’t stop attacking HRC and I can’t imagine this is winning issue for the 2018 midterms. Trump does need to how to campaign on a positive agenda.

        • Massimo Heitor says:

          Free trade hurt didn’t hurt the WWC. Immigration has. If nothing else, the WWC has diluted political representation and ownership of the US due to immigration.

          • collin says:

            Actually, I would think it is the opposite that long run free trade hurt WWC wages and immigration is not that large impact. Immigrants overwhelming don’t live in Rust Belt states but coastal states where there is minimal manufacturing. In SoCal Immigrants (legal & illegal) dominate seasonal agriculture and construction which would seem to have little impact on jobs in Ohio. (Also the level of illegal immigrants has remained 11 – 12M since 2008.)

            In terms of free trade it was the impact of China domination of manufacturing that it is believe cost about 1M in the 2000 – 2005 time frame. It is less than perfect estimate but it makes more sense then workers picking avocados in Southern California.

  3. Nate says:

    He says: “Another possibility is that Trump is only interested in rhetoric and presentation, and leaves the actual business of governing to others.” … But the evidence, in my opinion, points in the opposite direction. One of the president’s least attractive traits is his constant public berating of his own people. For better or worse, he seems engaged in government.”

    I think this is the most likely explanation for the most part, and I don’t understand why berating his own people would make it not true. I also think it’s compatible with the ideas re: his rhetoric and why it appeals to his (hardcore) supporters that Gurri lays out and your original quote above references. I think mainstream republicans like Paul Ryan and Lindsey Graham are piggy backing off this to try and get some of their more conventional policies passed, and have basically been successful so far.

    I’m not sure Peter Thiel, who said, “take Trump seriously but not literally” would say the same today. Instead it looks more like Ross Douhat points out, people are taking Trump “neither literally nor seriously.” And while he fights on twitter with NFL players and CNN, republicans are doing their best to advance their agenda. Would be interesting to see what happens if (rather than personal fights/glory/respect) Trump takes an interest in something not incidental, to but actually outside of, the GOP mainstream like trade policy.

    • Massimo Heitor says:

      I suspect Thiel still fully supports Trump. Douthat always strongly opposed Trump and was inclined to write negatively about him.

      Trump choose principled conservative technocrats like Betsy Devos and Scott Pruitt and gave them encouragement to make big, loud, intelligent changes. This conservative ideology isn’t advancing in spite of Trump, he’e been on the same team. Trump tried to help the conservative health care agenda, but conservatives didn’t have viable policies and rhetoric ready to push.

      Trade policy is quite in the GOP mainstream, and I see Trump’s trade disagreements are largely rhetorical and only mildly substantial on trade.

      • Nate says:

        But do you really think Trump wanted Devos and Pruitt? Or do you think that was Reince/Pence pushing him to do it. My reading of it is that Trump basically agrees with whomever he talked to last, so it’s not hard to imagine he was fine with Devos, Pruitt, Gorsuch, etc, even if he wasn’t the one driving it.

        • Massimo Heitor says:

          I don’t believe Trump is a puppet of figures like Pence as you suggest. Trump probably didn’t personally pick DeVos and Pruitt, but I do think Trump is in charge of his administration, he does have an ideology, and figures like DeVos and Pruitt are aligned with it.

  4. Massimo Heitor says:

    Tyler Cowen said much of this back in March 2017:

    In other words, Trump’s main policy is his rhetoric, and his very act of promising to restore control to the “deplorables” is a significant signal of control itself. In essence, Trump supporters are diagnosing America’s problems in terms of deficient discourse in the public sphere, as if they had read George Orwell and the Frankfurt School philosophers on the general topic but are drawing more on alt-right inspirations for the specifics of their critique.

    I can’t imagine other Republican leaders being as successful advancing orthodox conservative ideology without Trump’s thirst for outrage and vicious rhetorical culture warfare. Even on something seemingly benign and obscure like Net Neutrality regulation, the left is so hysterical, Hollywood celebrities are hinting at death threats, mainstream media is in full blown outrage mode. I can’t imagine a polite Republican leader making much traction on that issue even with institutional authority.

    Immigration represents genuine ideological dispute. Twenty years ago, there was bipartisan consensus on immigration restriction lasting many decades, but recently that bipartisan consensus flipped against popular preference to supporting larger levels of immigration and more amnesty and tactics to shame and trick voters who opposed that.

    • andrewknorr says:

      Somebody please write the takedown of Cowen that we’ve all been waiting for. I visit MR but truly Cowen is so ripe for satire.

  5. mike shupp says:

    I would consider Donald Trump an unworthy successor to Washington and Lincoln, Roosevelt and Reagan.

    Oh come now! He’s a hero in all other respects, and I’m sure he’s established the absolutely correct path to governing as a moderate while pleasing the general public in the age of the internet. It’s going to be such *FUN* we will see when a Democrat takes over the White House — FBI raids on banks as a regular thing, periodic demands for hanging a few capitalists, talk about government programs to subsidize gay marriage and transsexual surgery, encouragement of groups that seek to burn down Christian churches …

    And as long as only a little bit of this carnage occurs, middle of the road Republicans and libertarians will have to admit that America is being well governed. We’re all going to like this!

    • Massimo Heitor says:

      Former Kling coblogger David Henderson would point out that Abraham Lincoln literally had the US military burn entire cities to the ground, rape women, starve children to death in large numbers. I agree with Henderson. I don’t see how Donald Trump’s brash rhetoric and culture war is comparable in a scale of evil. Lincoln isn’t some grand predecessor to model after.

      • mike shupp says:

        Abe Lincoln ORDERED the burning of Atlanta, rape, and the starvation of children?

        Please provide documentation.

        • Massimo Heitor says:

          I’m not claiming Lincoln specifically gave those explicit orders, but he was closely involved with military activity, he knew what was happening, and he ultimately supported that.

          Here are two widely cited authors presenting this negative portrayl of Lincoln:

          • mike shupp says:

            Still fighting the Civil War on the losing side, eh? I guess that’s being conservative.

  6. Dan Jelski says:

    So I said something similar already back in January, 2016. That is, I predicted Trump’s (then) future behavior. So I don’t believe that such a predictable fellow is schizoid.

    I’d update my piece today using the hypnosis framework of Scott Adams ( While Trump has certainly made mistakes, I don’t believe he is an irrational loose cannon who just runs off on twitter randomly. There is method to his tweets.

  7. edgar says:

    Contra Gurri, Victor David Hanson makes a persuasive argument that Trump is preferable to anything else on offer: Although Hanson doesn’t go there, who really believes that a Bush or a Cruz could have achieved what Trump has and kept us out of any new wars. Moreover, who believes that Wolff, Gurri and the other self-ordained high priests of executive fitness would read the pigeon guts any differently for any other Republican president than they have for Trump. If not the tweets, they would pull some other supposedly damning flaw from their collective nether orifices.

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