Why you should care
Because Year Two could be wilder than Year One.
Approaching the anniversary of Donald Trump’s inauguration this weekend, talk of “American carnage” has given way to boasting about the soaring stock market and falling taxes. After a tumultuous first year, here’s what we figure Trump’s checklist looks like for Year Two — in his own handwriting.
The builder in chief has long proposed to upgrade America’s roads, bridges, airports and waterways — an initiative that, in theory, would be a bipartisan national boost. Pennsylvania Republican Rep. Bill Shuster, who is singularly focused on pushing infrastructure — so much so that he’s not running for re-election — visited the White House in December. “He was very encouraged by what he heard and the president’s demeanor,” says Justin Harclerode, spokesman for Shuster’s Transportation and Infrastructure Committee. Trump “seems as interested as ever — if not more — in getting something done.”
The details of that something, however, remain elusive. Congress is waiting on an outline from the White House before it draws up a bill. Trump has talked of $1 trillion in spending, but it’s unclear how much of that will come from private funds. Will the plan include rural broadband? Schools and hospitals? The biggest question is whether Democrats will join the effort, after bitter partisan fights over taxes and health care: There are political spoils to be had in resisting Trump’s every move, but every politician loves a ribbon-cutting.
After dominating the political landscape in Year One, special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation should reach its dramatic finale in the months to come. The president says again and again that there was “no collusion” between his campaign and the Russians, but evidence is mounting about repeated contacts and cover-ups that lead in the direction of the Oval Office.
So how does Trump neutralize an existential threat to his presidency? He could fire Mueller, but canning the guy investigating his campaign (ex–FBI Director James Comey) got him into this mess in the first place. The more effective course is already in motion: muddying the waters. In recent months, congressional Republicans and friendly news outlets have gone to great lengths to paint Mueller and the FBI as agenda-driven lefties.
Mueller leading Trump away in handcuffs is a resistance fever dream. Instead, he’s likely to prosecute more underlings, perhaps even Trump family members, and release a report outlining the president’s impeachable offenses. But if Trump and his allies have convinced the GOP base — and themselves — that the investigation is a hopelessly biased crusade, Congress won’t act on it. Unless …
If Democrats take the House, you can set your watch to impeachment hearings launching in 2019. So Trump is spending 2018 doing his best to make sure that doesn’t happen. The president is reportedly shaking up his political team and planning a robust travel schedule. This month he touted the recently passed tax law in Tennessee — home to a surprisingly competitive Senate race. And there are many places where his presence would be a helpful boost to Republicans hoping to match the energy on the left.
But Trump remains broadly unpopular, with Gallup this week pegging his approval rating at 38 percent, and forecasters give Democrats a strong chance to take the House. Vulnerable House Republicans are already stampeding for the exits, and the ones still running might rather keep their distance from the White House. Will Trump torch candidates from his own party who dare to cross him?
The most serious and least predictable item on the list relies on a match of wits between the Twitter-happy chief executive and the inscrutable millennial running the Hermit Kingdom. Trump’s first year saw Kim Jong Un deliver shocking advances for his nation’s intercontinental ballistic missile program, and prompted serious talk of nuclear war. While Trump talked of bringing “fire and fury” to North Korea, China squeezed its neighbor’s economy and the North recently met formally with the South for the first time in two years.
South Korea’s president has given Trump credit for improving the situation on the peninsula, but America’s “maximum pressure” is not working, says Ken Gause, a North Korea expert at the nonprofit research organization CNA. Gause says the only way to stop North Korea from putting a miniaturized nuke on top of a missile is “to have some carrots along with the sticks.” That means economic and security guarantees in exchange for a testing freeze. His advice to Trump? Let Secretary of State Rex Tillerson take the lead, and “stay off that dadgum Twitter.”