Traffic moves north along Interstate 270, Nov. 24, 2010, in Clarksburg, Md., the day before the Thanksgiving Holiday.
Photo by Carolyn Kaster/AP

The Trump administration’s infrastructure plans start to unravel

Updated
Of all of Donald Trump’s grand ideas, the Republican’s dream of a massive infrastructure package seemed almost plausible. “We are going to fix our inner cities and rebuild our highways, bridges, tunnels, airports, schools, hospitals,” Trump vowed the night he won the election. “We’re going to rebuild our infrastructure, which will become, by the way, second to none. And we will put millions of our people to work as we rebuild it.”

Democrats thought that sounded pretty good, and they even unveiled their own proposal to mirror Trump’s goals and demonstrate that the minority party was serious about tackling the issue.

But as president, Trump’s focus has shifted away from areas of bipartisan consensus. Axios reported yesterday that the Capitol Hill calendar is already “way overstuffed,” so Republicans are moving forward with a different infrastructure strategy in mind.
[The plan is to] push off until next year any consideration of the massive infrastructure plan Trump wants to push for roads, airports and other big projects, giving Republican lawmakers more breathing room amid a crowd of issues that’ll require massive effort, time and political capital. […]

Republican strategists say that Democrats, who’ll be reluctant to give Trump a win, will be in a jam as midterm elections close in: They’ll be under huge pressure to support big projects that’ll bring money and improvements to their districts. And blue-collar unions, including construction and building trades, can be expected to favor of the package, driving a wedge into the Democratic base.
As political strategies go, this is … odd. Trump could pursue this popular goal now – instead of, say, fighting to take Americans’ health care benefits away – but according to these Republican sources, the White House prefers to use the plan as an election-year prop in 2018.

And that wouldn’t necessarily be absurd – interesting things can happen when election-year pressures rise – were it not for the fact that the entire plan appears based on faulty assumptions.

If the reporting is accurate, Team Trump believes Democrats can be convinced to support infrastructure investments through this fiendishly clever scheme. What Team Trump doesn’t seem to understand is that Democrats already support infrastructure investments. The real problem is with the president’s own party.

Remember this report from a month ago?
In a post-election interview with The New York Times, Trump himself seemed to back away, saying infrastructure won’t be a “core” part of the first few years of his administration…. He acknowledged that he didn’t realize during the campaign that New Deal-style proposals to put people to work building infrastructure might conflict with his party’s small-government philosophy.

“That’s not a very Republican thing – I didn’t even know that, frankly,” he said.
That’s right, the new Republican president was so unfamiliar with Republican orthodoxy that he had no idea his party may not embrace the idea of massive government spending.

This is not to say Trump and Democrats are joined at the hip when it comes to infrastructure. There are real and important differences between how they’d like to approach the issue, including how to finance the projects. But it’s Republican leaders – which is to say, the majority party – who are denouncing the president’s idea. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R), for example, recently told reporters he wants to avoid “a $1 trillion stimulus.”

If the White House has a plan to convince Trump’s own party, it’s hiding well.