Trump has a winning hand, at least according to his advisers

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“President Trump believes one of his strengths is he is actually doing the things he told people he would do,” said Marc Lotter, a member of Trump’s 2020 advisory committee and former spokesman for Vice President Mike Pence. “One of the reasons why the President was elected was because we have had politicians of both parties for many, many years saying one thing on the trail, in the commercials and from the podium, and doing another.”

Despite one of his most erratic weeks in office, Donald Trump and his advisers see a winning hand.

Despite one of his most erratic weeks in office, Donald Trump and his advisers see a winning hand.Credit:Bloomberg

34 key senators

In one way, Trump is right. Activist Republican voters, who can punish GOP politicians not viewed as sufficiently loyal to Trump, are also his surest line of defence as special counsel Robert Mueller’s Russia investigation moves closer.

Should the incoming Democratic-controlled House impeach Trump – a threat many around Trump consider very real – he could survive and remain in office as long as at least 34 Republican senators stick with him. Democrat Bill Clinton survived the last impeachment in just this way.

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Yet even some of Trump’s allies now seem unnerved. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, who rarely criticises the President in public, said he was “particularly distressed” by Defence Secretary James Mattis’s departure.

Republican Senator Lindsey Graham said the decision to pull troops out of Syria and cut in half the US military presence in Afghanistan risks “paving the way toward a second 9/11”.

Republican Congressman Dennis Ross of Florida said he and his GOP colleagues are growing increasingly anxious. “Whether it be defence or monetary policy, we want to see some stability,” Ross said.

A sense of disarray in Washington as the federal shutdown neared contributed to a rout in the stock market. The Dow Jones Industrial Average had its worst week since the 2008 financial crisis, and the technology heavy Nasdaq Composite plunged into a bear market.

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And that was all before a Bloomberg News report late on Friday that Trump was talking openly to advisers about firing Jerome Powell, the head of the nation’s central bank – whose independence from the president is a bedrock feature of the US financial system.

Negative reaction from senior Republicans was swift and intense, with Republican Senator Richard Shelby warning Trump to “be very careful”.

Trump has made clear in public comments and tweets that he believes Powell is hurting the US economy and contributing to stock market losses – two things that need to be strong to improve Trump’s re-election chances.

On Morning morning, local time, he took to Twitter again to compare the Federal Reserve to a golfer and label it “the only problem our economy has”.

It came two days after Trump was seemingly forced to back down. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin posted a pair of tweets quoting Trump as not only denying any plan to fire Powell but disavowing authority to do so.

‘Governance crisis’

Any move to fire Powell would create immediate “market chaos”, said Peter Conti-Brown, a professor at the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School – Trump’s alma mater. “It would represent a governance crisis that would damage the Fed, damage the presidency, and damage the nation.”

Even so, advisers said Trump feels emboldened, not chastened, by the midterm elections – despite the net loss of 40 House seats, his party’s worst in the chamber since Watergate in the 1970s. His aides have spun that as a win since it fell short of the 63 seats Democrats lost in 2010, and they have emphasised Republican pick-ups in the Senate in Florida, Indiana, Missouri and North Dakota.

As a result, Trump feels vindicated in his political instincts and is increasingly unmoved by advisers, they said.

Donald Trump feels vindicated in his political instincts and is unmoved by advisers around him.

Donald Trump feels vindicated in his political instincts and is unmoved by advisers around him.Credit:AP

He’s now ready for a reset and a shake-up of his Cabinet to surround himself with advisers more aligned to his political outlook, and he’s coming to the view he should have done so from the start of his administration.

When he ran for President, Trump presented himself as a candidate who would bring troops home from the Middle East, and he’s no longer willing to let his generals dissuade him. He now regrets going against his instincts last year when he approved a plan to send thousands more troops to Afghanistan at the urging of foreign policy advisers, said a person familiar with the process.

On Monday, Trump underscored the “America First” approach to global affairs that he used to rally voters in a response to the backlash over Mattis’s departure.

Some of the Republican Party’s most vocal conservatives, particularly members of the House Freedom Caucus, consider the struggle over border wall funding a test of whether Trump will hold his ground and prove he won’t buckle under the pressure of a Democratic-controlled House. They consider that paramount, regardless of any discomfort it may cause moderate Republicans – a shrinking part of the GOP’s Congressional delegation – and independents.

Limbaugh and Coulter run the show

In the days before the federal shutdown, Trump shifted from signalling he might acquiesce to a stopgap measure to temporarily fund the government after a backlash from right-wing media personalities. Radio host Rush Limbaugh fumed on his show that “Trump gets nothing, and the Democrats get everything”.

Conservative commentator Ann Coulter told the the Daily Caller’s podcast that his administration risked becoming a “joke presidency that scammed the American people” if he wasn’t able to build a border wall, and that she wouldn’t vote for his re-election if he didn’t. Later, she tweeted out a column headlined “Gutless President in Wall-Less Country”.

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Trump certainly noticed. He stopped following Coulter’s Twitter feed shortly afterward. But the criticism cut to the core.

With Democrats taking control of the House next month, Trump sees this as his last likely chance to secure funding for the border wall, fulfilling one of his most crucial promises of the campaign, his advisers say.

By Friday, he was girding for a fight, declaring himself “totally prepared for a very long shutdown”.

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