Suffering from low approval ratings and minimal policy accomplishments, the White House is trying to get back on message this week. The administration is announcing a series of three “theme weeks” over the next three weeks. Each week will have events dedicated to either “Made in America”, American Heroes”, or “American Dreams”.
As the issues of Donald Trump Jr. and Russia have dominated the headlines recently, it’s understandable that the White House would want to change topics. On the surface, it seems like no better way to counteract the headlines about Trump and Russia than with strong, positive ideas of American jobs, veterans, and economic opportunity.
This week is “Made in America.” It will emphasize the importance of manufacturing products in the US and include a showcase of America-made items from all 50 states, a proclamation on the importance of American manufacturing, and the commissioning of the new aircraft carrier, the USS Gerald Ford. No events have been unveiled yet for “American Heroes” or “American Dreams” weeks.
With campaign slogans like “America First” and “Make America Great Again”, “Made in America” seems like an obvious theme for Trump. Unfortunately, it also leaves the administration wide open to attacks from the Left. Liberals are already using this as an opportunity to slam Trump and his family for outsourcing much of the manufacturing of their products, such as Ivanka’s fashion line, to other countries.
Besides giving Democrats easy attack lines about hypocrisy, these theme weeks also risk taking the focus off the Obamacare repeal efforts in Congress, at a time when the negotiations are most precarious. Already suffering from multiple delays, the Senate remains at an impasse. Moderates and conservatives have been at loggerheads over everything from Medicaid expansion to pre-existing conditions. Reform efforts have become watered down. Presidential leadership is needed on the healthcare issue now more than ever. Even something as important as American manufacturing could be a distraction from this immediate goal. In the world of Washington D.C., once failure occurs, revisiting the issue may be a tough ask for Congress in the future.
A President only has a certain amount of time and political capital to spend. He must choose where and what to focus on. No matter how the White House frames it, every second now spent on other issues takes time away from repealing Obamacare.
This is not the first time such theme weeks have been used by the White House. In early May, Reince Priebus and staff rolled out a similar set of theme weeks to give some structure and direction to policy goals. These included technology and energy expansion, public infrastructure, and greater job development. Though good in theory, they proved ineffective. They gained little traction in the headlines to begin with, and everything from James Comey to Trump’s own tweeting killed the White House messaging. Ultimately, they did nothing to push these issues toward any legislative success. Thus, they came across as nothing more than a publicity stunt.
If policy goals are the main objective, gimmicks such as “theme weeks” are unlikely to do much good. They seem like nice ideas, but they overlook the painful reality of Washington. Real legislative accomplishments are not won with sound bites in a few weeks time. They are won with grueling, behind-the-scenes work over many months. Accomplishments take time, dedication, and focus. Hop-scotching from one issue to the next does nothing. Now is the time to buckle down and show the American people that the White House is serious about repealing Obamacare. There is time for the rest of these issues later.
President Reagan didn’t need themes or dedicated weeks to overhaul the tax code or bring down the Soviet Union. He did it with one theme, and it was the exact same theme every week – fulfill his campaign promises. The only way Trump can change the headlines and improve his approval rating is by following suit and keeping his promises too. That starts with repealing Obamacare.