Is Trump Tipping? An Update

May 21, 2017

In what seems like eons ago, but in fact was early March, I posed the question: Is the Trump presidency at a tipping point? My conclusion then was that it was easy—perhaps too easy—to tell stories in which actors have incentives that lead to tipping points. Let's not get carried away, I argued: one could just as easily tell stories that work the other direction.

Still, for the sake of argument, I laid out four tipping models, each involving a set of actors on whom the Trump presidency depends. Somewhat to my surprise, my imagination proved to be a pretty good guide to how things would play out over the last few months. Let's take stock:

Disaffected insiders: This is a classic case of safety in numbers: it's harder to get caught leaking if everybody around you is also talking to the media.

Um, that seems right. At this point, I wouldn't be surprised if Ivanka is trash talking the president off the record. It's the most transparent administration in American history.

The media: No legitimate news organization wants to get scooped. The more news organizations are investigating a story with legs, the more that others want to jump in.

Yep. The Times and the Post in particular seem to be in a race to win the Pulitzer for the Trump-Russia story.

Republican policy experts: Well-connected Republicans smell scandal and failure, discouraging them from taking positions in the Trump administration. This in turn discourages other potential nominees from seeking out such positions.

Is there anybody in DC who hasn't already taken a job in the Trump administration who wants one now? As David Brooks writes, "even if the Trump presidency survives, it will be staffed by the sort of C- and D-List flora and fauna who will make more mistakes, commit more scandals and lead to more dysfunction."

Republican members of Congress: Trump is still quite popular among Republican voters, so cutting loose the White House—say, by calling for an independent investigation of Trump-Russia ties—poses a political risk. That risk, however, may be smaller if other Republican members take the same position.

Yes, well…I think the most we can say is that there is a conspiracy of silence. But let's check back on the GOP in another few months.