To Give Americans a Better Deal, Trump Should Look at What’s Working in the States

The Democratic Party is in crisis. Democrats believed they were the party of the middle class. They were confident of a sweeping victory in November’s elections. Control of the Senate was the only question at stake.

The electorate had other ideas. Yet Democrats remain ignorant as to why they lost. Many blame “fake news” and Russian hackers. But that’s an easy fantasy. In reality, Democrats lost the White House by selecting a flawed candidate and mismanaging government.

And that gives Republicans a grand opportunity. Newly empowered, Republicans could introduce new policies that support struggling Americans. If they do, voters will reward Republicans in the 2018 midterm elections. If they don’t, Republicans will lose big.

Still, there’s a catch. President-Elect Trump. Because Trump’s fiscal proposals are somewhat contradictory. On the positive side, Trump wants to cut regulations, replace Obamacare and reduce wasteful government procurement. But Trump has also proposed an expensive infrastructure-spending plan that will doubtless feather the beds of the unions. And he’s risking a trade war that would harm lower and middle-income American families. And he says he won’t reform the near-bankrupt entitlements system.

Republicans need to bend Trump’s ear in the right direction. They should push the president-elect to look to state governors who are leading successful reforms to benefit Americans. A number of ideas stand out.

For a start, Trump should reform federal welfare programs and delegate greater control over federal grants to state governors. At present, the U.S. welfare system is a maze of overlapping, complicated and expensive programs. Waste is rampant, service delivery is inefficient and far too many welfare recipients remain imprisoned in this maze for life. Trump should address these failures by doing what no president has had the courage to do — namely, admitting his limitations in knowing what’s best for every state.

Republican governors across the country have already been successful in cutting taxes and reducing regulations to the benefit of their constituents

Former Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal’s approach to Medicaid (the Federal health care program for poor residents) offers a good beginning. In 2013, Jindal asked President Obama to let him reform Medicaid. Jindal’s proposals included simplifying eligibility and service parameters (to reduce inefficiencies, waste and fraud), providing premium support to help residents buy private coverage instead of relying on Medicaid, and allowing restrictions on Medicaid emergency room visits for non-urgent issues. The latter is particularly important in its ability to reduce waste. Consider the sums taxpayers spend on ER visits each year. In 2015, Kentucky’s cost was $385 million (70 percent paid for by Federal taxpayers and 30 percent by state taxpayers). It’s an outrage.

Regrettably, Obama ignored Jindal. Trump should not make the same mistake. Taxpayers have the expectation that government will minimize outlays and maximize outcomes. Yet government has systematically failed. And let’s not forget, those who use welfare programs have also suffered. They have become numbers on a computer document, their individual potential forgotten. Their worth defined only by their votes.

It’s not just welfare. Many other federal programs designed to increase social mobility have the opposite effect. Indeed, at the state level, Democratic governors aren’t just failing to ensure that state programs operate effectively; they’re actively regulating new private sector opportunities.

Tax reform for individuals and for corporations is the first area Trump could give an opportunity boost to struggling Americans. Here, he should look to Arizona’s Republican governor, Doug Ducey. Ducey has made it his first priority to find and eliminate regulations that discourage investment. Such mechanisms to encourage economic activity are far superior to Trump’s current plan to introduce internal tariffs on U.S. corporations.

Nevertheless, the most important opportunity reform priority is education. Without education, too many Americans struggle to gain the jobs and incomes for a better life. Unfortunately, today, too many schools across America are failing. Beholden to teachers unions, most Democrats do little to address this issue. New Jersey Governor Chris Christie offers a better example to Trump’s administration. Christie is reforming state grants so that failing schools are no longer rewarded for their failures. That’s a plan that Trump could replicate in federal grants from the Department of Education.

Another concern ripe for reform is government staffing. The federal workforce is now at record highs, a fact that represents a productivity failure of epic proportions. Trump could change that. For one, excepting national security positions, Trump should introduce a 15 percent cut across the Federal workforce. Some say that these cuts are not possible. Reality says otherwise. Take Maryland’s Republican governor, Larry Hogan. Working to close a budget deficit, Hogan is cutting bloated government rosters. The left is furious, but Maryland voters are happy. They know they’ve been getting a bad deal.

Ultimately, the 50 states offer Trump much he can learn from. And if the next president doubts the merits of listening to good ideas, he need only look at Obama. After all, eight years ago, Obama was elected on a promise to bring hope to struggling Americans. He had a grand opportunity. Instead, however, the president ruled by partisan decree and the rebranding of broken ideas. Trump would do well to avoid the same mistake. He should be bold — and he should double down on what works.

Tom Rogan is a foreign policy columnist for National Review, a domestic policy columnist for Opportunity Lives, a panelist on The McLaughlin Group and a senior fellow at the Steamboat Institute. Follow him on Twitter @TomRtweets.