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UNH discussion assesses Trump administration, 82 days in

  • Republican political analyst Tom Rath discusses the first 82 days of President Donald Trump’s administration with Carsey School of Public Policy Director Michael Ettlinger at the University of New Hampshire on Wednesday. Elodie Reed—Monitor staff

Monitor staff
Published: 4/13/2017 12:24:12 AM

Eighty-two days into the Donald Trump administration, New Hampshire attorney and former Republican presidential campaign senior adviser Tom Rath told University of New Hampshire students that he’s still waiting for a unifying moment, one where the president embodies the national values that cut across party lines.

“We expect certain things of a president, and he has not yet done those,” Rath said in a conversation with Carsey School of Public Policy Director Michael Ettlinger on Wednesday. “You always look for moments of grace.”

In general, Rath – who endorsed Ohio Gov. John Kasich during the presidential campaign – told Ettlinger he’s looking for stabilizing factors in a period of uncertainty.

One of those is filling federal administration seats – a Politico story published Tuesday shows that the White House has nominated people for just 24 of 553 key positions needing approval from the U.S Senate.

“It’s been extraordinarily slow,” Rath said. “A very important thing for us – New Hampshire – is not who the secretary of HHS (health and human services) is, but who the regional secretary of HHS is.”

In addition to making new appointments, Rath said he feels his friend, White House Chief of Staff Reince Priebus, has his job cut out for him with what appears to be a leaky, in-fighting team.

National news stories documenting the executive branch often cite numerous unnamed administration officials, leaked documents and internal power struggles between staff members.

“I don’t think the White House is settled,” Rath said. “The White House staff have to understand they’re there to serve the president.”

Those truly dedicated to service at the White House will be the ones approaching long-term steps for progress, Rath said. Everything now, he added – from the travel and immigration executive orders rolled out to the apparent abandonment of the largely bipartisan infrastructure spending package – trends toward the short-term “hot” topics.

Rath indicated this pattern starts at the top, with Trump.

“His reach seems to be rather limited,” he said. “He just doesn’t seem to have a policy infrastructure as much as a dynamic of telling people who’s in charge. We don’t know with this president where his philosophic core is.”

Regardless of this lack of known political ideology, Rath said there is one thing he feels Trump has to do as the leader of the United States.

“I think of all the things a president can do – must do – the most critical one is to speak clearly and consistently as to what America stands for to the rest of the world,” Rath said. “We need to say there are principles, and that’s where I stand and will not go beyond that. I say no, the Putin regime is an illegitimate one.”

Given the recent chemical attack and what Rath said was a sincere and horrified response from Trump, the political analyst thought the gravity of the president’s role may start to sink in soon.

“I think it changes you,” he said.

As for what Rath hopes will happen for the future of America’s political system, he wants to see a polarized nation return to the center of politics.

“There must be a center and the center must hold,” Rath said. “The general election did not get won in the middle.”

He added that money in politics, outside interest groups influencing policy and a proliferation of media sources contributed to the rise of a divided constituency and the election of Donald Trump.

People, he said, through a major crisis or a high-profile bipartisan issue, would have to be the ones to move politics back to the center.

“I’m hopeful we get to a better place,” Rath said.

Whether the country is ready for that is an open question. As indicated by some University of New Hampshire political science students Wednesday, we might not be there yet.

Mike Lynch is a senior undergraduate student from Nashua who voted for Trump. While he is “not thrilled” by all of the president’s actions thus far – especially on Twitter – he is happy with some of the Cabinet picks.

Furthermore, to Rath’s point, Lynch said people better unify behind Trump – he’s what America has now.

“A divided nation is a weak nation,” Lynch said.

But Carsey School of Public Policy graduate student and self-described centrist Sarah Garstka from Nottingham still can’t accept that Trump is really president.

She said she voted for Hillary Clinton only because she couldn’t conceive of Trump in the oval office, and now she continues to struggle with the challenges to social justice that the Trump administration poses, including racism and transphobia.

“I grieved a lot after the election,” Garstka said. “I have been stuck in the denial stage of grieving.”

(Elodie Reed can be reached at 369-3306, ereed@cmonitor.com or on Twitter

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