Monday, February 6, 2017

Which Programs Will Be Nourished and Which Will Be Starved Under the Trump Administration?

Trump's stunning upset victory over Hillary Clinton has given us a president who is likely to shake up the goals of federal grant making in a similar manner. Consequently, the surprising results of the presidential election are causing non-profit executives to wonder what, if anything, they can do to ensure a steady supply of federal grants for non-profits in California and across the country. 

While we do not know the specific policy changes that the new president and his Republican-led Congress will pursue, non-profit executives can make reasonable guesses about the increase, repeal, rollback or decrease of various federal grants based on what political scientists tell us about the broad patterns of American government. Based on these patterns, I think it is safe to offer my predictions for federal grants from the Trump administration in the space below. 

Basically, you are best off investigating congressional behavior and specific presidential appointees if you want to accurately predict what will happen to your particular niche in the federal grant system. This is because grant programs are low visibility items. They are barely, if at all, even noticed by the general public so members of Congress have nearly complete autonomy to do what they want without the burden of public attention. The federal grants that you and I compete for on a yearly basis are more likely to be influenced by the behavior and preferences of little known interest groups, bureaucrats and congressional staffers. 

Accordingly, the election results will not be a strong predictor of Trump's presidency unless the policy matters impacts a high visibility, high conflict issue such as building a border wall or cancelling previous trade agreements. Off the top of my head, however, I would say that grants to study or prevent global warming are a dead end on arrival for the foreseeable future. On a more optimistic angle, I think the Trump administration will be open to new ideas that increase the number of construction jobs and construction workers, particularly in the key swing states of Wisconsin, Michigan and Pennsylvania. 

As you contemplate the future of federal grants, it is probably a good idea to understand how long the Trump administration will last and what may happen to partisan control of Congress.

Right now, the indications are that Donald Trump will be reelected in 2020 and serve out two terms in office or eight years total. My confidence in this prediction is that it is fairly easy for presidents to get re-elected in general. As you may know, twenty presidents have competed for reelection since 1900: Of those, 15 won and five lost. (I am counting Gerald Ford as one of the losers even though he was initially appointed and not elected to the office). Incumbent presidents have a lot of advantages in terms of visibility, name recognition, fundraising resources and, of course, all the money and influence available to them through their control of the Executive Branch. Even unpopular presidents tend to get more popular when it is time to file for office again. 

Unless, Trump loses a war or zigs off in a completely unpopular direction (or faces a strong third party candidate) there is little chance that he will be a one-term president. Accordingly, it is safest to assume that - for better or worse - your charity will be serving in a Trump administration dominated political environment for the next eight years. 

Historically speaking, Trump should lose congressional seats in the next mid-term election. In all likelihood, it will be much harder for him to pass new legislation after the mid-term elections are over. Right now, Republicans have a positive outlook since of the 25 Democrat Senate seats up for re-election include senators from ten states in which Trump won large victories. Nevertheless, it is rare for a president to gain legislative strength over time. Although he would be unlikely to lose the House of Representatives, there is a chance he could lose control of the Senate. The significance of this possibility is probably not lost on Trump. He has every reason to make the best of the next 200 days and the next two years when his legislative majorities will most certainly be at their peak. 

Given Republican advantages in the electoral college and their control of most of the state legislatures, I believe that the House of Representatives will stay in Republican hands for the foreseeable future. Due to Republican dominance among governors and statehouses, they will be able to gerrymander their congressional districts and carefully apportion their voters so that they get the maximum number of congressional leaders elected to the House of Representatives. The bottom line is that the trends you see in funding right now, as indicated in the first few months of the administration, are highly likely to be the ones that control the pace, focus and size of federal grants in your field for the next eight years or so, if not longer. 

Finally, it is important to understand just how significant will Trump's appointees be in regards to any changes we might see in federal grants. This issue goes to the heart of the limits on executive power and the natural constraints placed on a chief executive like Donald J. Trump. Since no U.S. president can personally control the day-to-day operations of a cabinet department, much less the entire federal government, it makes a lot of sense for non-profit executives to drill down and pay greater attention to the folks that Trump appoints to lead the departments that distribute the grants you want for your non-profit organization. Personally, I have found it helpful to do a little Google research on the key people who are taking over the government departments where I compete for federal grants. 

For example, you might start getting to know the following cabinet officers or potential cabinet officers by using this handy list:

AppointeeDepartmentWikipedia Research
Ben CarsonHousing and Urban DevelopmentWikipedia Research
Betsy DevosEducationWikipedia Research
Tom PriceHealth and Human ServicesWikipedia Research
Sonny PerdueAgricultureWikipedia Research
Andy PuzderLaborWikipedia Research
Elaine ChaoTransportation Wikipedia Research
David ShulkinVeterans AffairsWikipedia Research
Ryan ZinkeInteriorWikipedia Research

If you research President Trump's appointments, then you will certainly help your non-profit agency prepare itself to win federal grants. You will also be among the most knowledgeable people in America, among the very few who will be able to predict for others much of what will happen over the course of the next eight years. 

One Key Question: Does Donald J. Trump Really Mean What He says?

My study of similar charismatic leaders indicates that charismatic leaders like Donald J. Trump really do mean what they say. Since they are traditionally seeking to upset existing power structures, they cannot survive unless they take care of the followers who they ask to trust them and be willing to follow them despite high risks and potential social pressure. Unlike Obama, demonstrably Trump cannot lean on the support of a sympathetic press or the adoration of Hollywood. Instead, he has to rely on his relatively smaller base of working class voters in Wisconsin, Michigan and Pennsylvania to hold on to power. Given the narrowness of that band of political support, he really cannot afford to offend that base or back off his promises to them. 

Indeed, one of the consistent patterns seen in charismatic leaders like Lincoln, Washington or Napoleon is that they were known for their commitment to strong principles of justice and fairness. If charismatic leaders were simply chaotic, insincere liars, then it would be difficult for them to attract die-hard followers. Their key inner core of supporters would abandon them if they lacked fidelity to their closely cherished beliefs. Followers maybe patient with their leaders, but they are not stupid about them. Like Napoleon and other leaders, you have seen and can count on Trump to say different things to different audiences to win their support. We can predict that he will occasionally offer alternative facts to get temporary advantages. In the long-run, however, it is a safe bet to assume that Donald Trump believes what he says and that he fully intends to make the sort of changes he promised during his campaign, particularly on the big picture issues like trade, immigration, and fighting ISIS. 

The most important question is not whether Trump is sincere, but to what extent will he be able to do what he wants given the constraints of our U.S. Constitutional system.
The simple answer is no, as the highly charismatic Barack Obama learned. It is not so easy to get things done and make them stick because the U.S. Constitution created three separate branches of government and gave to each its own tools for protecting its turf, i.e. the famous checks and balances. 

One of the best ways to improve your predictions of how much of their agenda any president will accomplish is to pay attention to the priorities of the legislative branch, Congress. In this regard, Trump does have an advantage in getting his policies put into law. His party controls both parts of the Congress, the House of Representatives and the U.S. Senate. Perhaps due to all the media attention focused on the president, one of the truisms of American government is that, the legislature has a lot more power than people think it does. After all, most of us do not pay much attention to how government really works and fail to follow how the actual details of a president's legislative agenda are hammered out in the House, the Senate and then the conference committees which combine their separate bills into one law that the president can then either sign or veto. 

Unlike many U.S. governors, the president suffers from limits to his executive power because he does not have a line-item veto. Such a veto power would allow him to pick and choose which parts of a proposed law to accept or reject. 

In view of these real world constraints, I think it is a wise bet to assume that President Trump will end up approving a lot of the existing, conservative, Republican policies that have been bottled up in the legislative branch under the Obama administration. This is because the quickest and safest way for Trump to get quality legislation completed quickly is to simply rubber stamp the legislative changes which have been consistently repressed and vetoed by Obama. If you know what the Republicans have been wanting to do in your particular field of interest, then it is a safe bet to assume they will get their way under President Trump.