In the era of Trump, big government is winning
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The Republican Party has long touted itself as the party of limited government. In this sense, Donald Trump was always a different kind of Republican candidate. He ran as a populist rather than a conservative and many of his proposals, if successfully implemented, would have made the reach of government larger not smaller.

As president, Trump has continued to champion initiatives on both sides of the big government/small government divide. But, perhaps not surprisingly, his rate of success has been very different in expanding government than it has been in contracting it.

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Just this week, President TrumpDonald John TrumpTrump cites tax cuts over judges as having biggest impact of his presidency Trump cites tax cuts over judges as having biggest impact of his presidency Ocasio-Cortez claps back at Trump after he cites her in tweet rejecting impeachment MORE announced the expansion of our military role in Afghanistan. This is consistent with his proposed budget expanding military spending, one of the few parts of his budget that has been positively received by Congress (in fact Congress has argued that the spending increase for the department of Defense was not enough).

The most successful member of Trump’s cabinet in enacting policy changes has been Attorney General Jeff SessionsJefferson (Jeff) Beauregard SessionsSarah Sanders to leave White House Sarah Sanders to leave White House Barr compares his return to DOJ to D-Day invasion MORE. Sessions has increased the reach of government by creating a new asset forfeiture policy, cracking down on marijuana law enforcement, and pushing for stricter sentencing.  

The other signature area in which Trump has been most successful is immigration. Increased action by the Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) has been an explicit goal of the Trump administrations and deportations and arrests have increased. Stories of the impact on communities of having valued members removed have become common.

Contrast this with Trump’s efforts to roll back ObamaCare which met with a dramatic failure in the Senate. While the ultimate fate of Affordable Care Act is not certain, the likelihood that the signature legislation of the Obama administration will survive in some form is much greater than it was several months ago.

In the regulatory arena, Trump’s attempts to repeal and delay regulations has begun to run up against predictable legal obstacles. The repeals will take years to implement and may be overturned by courts. Courts have also made clear that attempts to delay Obama administration regulations cannot be used indefinitely and that eventually the Trump administration must either implement these regulations or engage in the uncertain prospects of repealing them.

Finally, in September, Congress will have to pass a budget for Fiscal Year 2018 (or more likely a continuing resolution until they can agree on a permanent budget). While the Trump administration has proposed draconian cuts, even Republicans have acknowledged that these reductions have no chance of passing. Some agencies will face funding losses but they are far more likely to be incremental than draconian.

Trump’s most successful attempts to reduce the role of government has largely been accomplished by appointing unqualified people to head federal agencies. At the department of Housing and Urban Development, Secretary Ben CarsonBenjamin (Ben) Solomon CarsonMoulton confirms he'll miss first Democratic debate Moulton confirms he'll miss first Democratic debate Lawmakers battle over HUD protections for homeless transgender people MORE’s management has led qualified career employees to begin to give up hope in the agency. At the department of Energy, Secretary Rick PerryJames (Rick) Richard PerryOvernight Defense: Trump hails D-Day veterans in Normandy | Trump, Macron downplay rift on Iran | Trump mourns West Point cadet's death in accident | Pentagon closes review of deadly Niger ambush Trump hails D-Day veterans in Normandy: 'You are the pride of our nation' Trump hails D-Day veterans in Normandy: 'You are the pride of our nation' MORE’s oversight has led to questions about the oversight of our nuclear arsenal. Even the most committed small government activists have to question this style of downsizing.

Why has Trump ended up being a big government president in his first year in office? I suspect it is for two reasons. The first is that dismantling government programs is harder than creating them. The second is that Trump cares more about expanding the police powers of the government than he does about reducing the overall role of government.

Libertarians were among the most reluctant Republican supporters of Trump’s campaign. The expansion of government as a police state and the failure of it to downsize elsewhere is proving them prophetic.

Stuart Shapiro is professor and director of the Public Policy Program at the Bloustein School of Planning and Public Policy at Rutgers University, and a member of the Scholars Strategy Network. Follow him on Twitter @shapiro_stuart.


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