After over a year in office, the tumultuous and unorthodox approach of the Trump Administration has not abated – in fact, some might argue it has only grown more unconventional. President Trump and Republican legislators succeeded in getting tax reform done, but infrastructure and immigration deals remain outstanding. Amazon has been subjected to the president's Twitter wrath, while Facebook has managed to avoid a dressing down. Heated rhetoric over North Korea has quieted as the White House prepares for a May 2018 summit meeting between President Trump and Kim Jong Un. Trump's aggressive statements on trade have not resulted in any major US trade policy shifts, but a tariff spat with China has some market watchers raising an eyebrow. I sat down recently with Bob Stevenson and Bob Marsh of OB-C Group, a premier bipartisan boutique lobbying firm in Washington DC, to get some insights into how the Trump White House operates and what investors may expect in the months ahead.



Has President Trump changed the role of president and how it works with Congress?

  • Bob Marsh: I think he has better relationships with Congress than people think, but it's sort of behind the scenes. And because he's such a politically divisive figure, it's hard to see that, but President Obama did not have great relationships with Congress, even though he served in Congress for a period of time. [Trump] brings a completely different perspective on what he thinks a president should be, and that has really changed the way Washington operates.
  • Bob Stevenson: He is really the first president we've had since Eisenhower who is not a politician. He's a businessman. He operates differently. [Trump] tends to rely on staff in a different way than other presidents have. He doesn't look to build consensus. He enjoys conflict. He wants differing views. [Trump] has a different approach to the presidency because he comes out of business, not out of the political realm.
Is Congress really learning about all these policy [and administration] changes through Twitter?

  • Bob Stevenson: Yes – it seems to be his most comfortable form of communication.
  • Bob Marsh: On policy, he will tweet something that is fairly strong – "This is what I'm going to do" – and then a few weeks later he comes back with something that actually, policy-wise, is not that much different than what's currently going on, for instance, on the Korean trade agreement. You would think he was shaking the apple cart up. Well, actually, he really didn't, yet he's able to claim a victory and able to claim that he changed the status quo largely because of the way he messages things. We often advise clients that if you really want to get a message into Trump, the message is not done through backchannels. It's done through the media in a way that would catch his attention, so he is a different president in that way. There are other presidents – particularly Ronald Reagan, for instance – who knew how to use TV communication skills in a different way and were transformative in that way. I think Trump has become [like] that in the way he has used social media.
Can you speak to the addition of Larry Kudlow as economist advisor? What does it say for where Trump's agenda is going?

  • Bob Marsh: I think he likes people who can handle themselves in the media. I think the question will be – is Larry Kudlow going to feel comfortable all the time defending Trump?
  • Bob Stevenson: I think Kudlow is smart enough to know that in this particular presidency the focus remains on the principal and that he tries to share that limelight at his own peril.
Does the media have a love-hate relationship with Trump? And vice-versa?

  • Bob Marsh: He knows how to push their buttons beautifully – probably better than most. He's got the willingness to do that and really loves to engage in that way.
  • Bob Stevenson: It drives their ratings up. Washington loves a scandal. They absolutely get absorbed and obsessed with any scandal and they view the Russian investigation as serious – as they should – but they want to fuel this every day. That doesn't mean it's going to affect Mueller. He's going to go ahead and do his job, but the media loves this aspect of the Trump presidency, and they're going to focus on this absolutely until Mueller releases his report and comes to his conclusions. They are going to fuel this. They're going to focus on it. I do think that causes the president to focus on this investigation as well, and it bothers him.
Are we so obsessed with 'Trump' the character that we are missing what he's actually doing?

  • Bob Stevenson: I would say that if we've missed things that he's done because of the media's focus, [President Trump] is as much to blame as they are because he has directed that spotlight onto himself, and he fuels it with his tweets and public comments.
What might we expect going forward?

  • Bob Marsh: The unpredictable is the predictable. It's really hard to predict how [Trump] is going to react to various things. That makes it very hard to decide on the best strategy – in some ways, you're basing your strategy off what happened in the White House. On the other hand, the great thing about this country is that we do still have a balance of power system, so there are all kinds of checks and balances – even on the presidency.
  • Bob Stevenson: I would say the one thing I can safely predict is that – given the fact that we have a significant cultural and political divide and a polarizing president – that there will continue to be this political and cultural divide going into the 2020 election. I don't see any significant moves towards bipartisanship, at least for the next two years.

 


This material is provided for informational purposes only. The views and opinions expressed above may change based on market and other conditions. There can be no assurance that developments will transpire as forecasted.

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