The Trump administration’s off-key statements and the ragged leaks from the White House have been getting a lot of attention, but, even if they make compelling headlines, they are more or less routine. Remember this: We are just two weeks into the Trump administration, and with the exception of personnel appointments, nothing that has happened so far will matter much by later this spring. Plus, it will take until at least May for many of the empty chairs throughout the administration to be filled and for the executive agencies to start functioning in a more normal fashion.
In just two weeks as president, Donald Trump has already taken some substantive measures on the economy, including his executive order generally reducing regulations and controlling regulatory costs; requiring pipeline projects to be completed using iron or steel products manufactured in the United States; revising Dodd-Frank; and rescinding President Barack Obama’s retirement account advisory business regulations before they can go into effect in April. Plus, Trump made Wilbur Ross, his commerce secretary nominee, one of the adults in charge of the NAFTA negotiations. In doing so, Trump defused a potentially ugly situation and sidelined some of his more bombastic advisers. The NAFTA overhaul is a critically important move, and it’s good that Trump has given Ross a powerful White House embrace.
The Trump administration doesn’t have any problems that 4 percent economic growth won’t solve. Maybe it has been a blessing in disguise for the White House that the media have been obsessed with mostly trivial matters so far and let important economic matters proceed slightly out of view. Maybe it has allowed the National Economic Council, the slowly growing forces at the Treasury Department and the Commerce Department and the GOP leadership in Congress to quietly work on some significant measures that will alter the trajectory of America’s economy. But now, the Trump administration needs to shift the conversation to the economy.
Trump has assembled a mostly savvy, poised group of economic leaders to serve in his administration. What he needs to do is allow his economic message to break through all the noise. The economy played a big role in the 2016 elections and Trump’s victory, and he needs to sidestep or resist the temptation to talk about the media obsession du jour and pivot to a strong economic message. White House National Economic Council Director Gary Cohn spoke artfully about the “pro-growth strategy” of the White House on CNBC on Friday, but any coverage of the economic message was overwhelmed by those who are still allowing themselves to be chased around about the is-it-or-is-it-not-a-ban executive order on immigration.
Anyway, most White Houses are too controlling about who can speak for the administration and on what topics. This White House doesn’t appear to have enough restraints on who can wander on air and hold forth about this, that or the other. It was James Carville who famously said, “It’s the economy, stupid,” and Bill Clinton who said he was going to “focus like a laser beam” on the economy. The Trump administration needs its own mantra on the economy, and the sooner the better.
Ed Rogers is a contributor to the Post, a political consultant and a veteran of the Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush White Houses and several national campaigns. He is the chairman of the lobbying and communications firm BGR Group, which he founded with former Mississippi governor Haley Barbour in 1991.