Campaign's Slogan 'Drain The Swamp' May Be Easier Said Than Done
DAVID GREENE, HOST:
If there is one sentiment that defined this election, it is anger at the establishment. Donald Trump arguably won the White House on a message of turning Washington upside down. Here he is at a campaign rally in Scranton, Pa., the day before the election.
(SOUNDBITE OF CAMPAIGN RALLY)
DONALD TRUMP: We are going to drain the swamp.
GREENE: Repeating the battle cry that always earned him a huge response.
(SOUNDBITE OF CAMPAIGN RALLY)
UNIDENTIFIED TRUMP SUPPORTERS: (Chanting) Drain the swamp. Drain the swamp.
GREENE: Drain the swamp is the chant there. But some wonder whether a Trump administration will really be about draining the swamp. We asked John Feehery to come talk about this in our studios. We heard him frequently throughout the presidential campaign. He's a Republican strategist and a consultant, which means he works in the swamp. I asked him what his clients have been thinking about this Trump win.
JOHN FEEHERY: They're all a little bit nervous 'cause they didn't expect this to happen. They expected Hillary Clinton to win. And Hillary Clinton was a known quantity. Donald Trump is an unknown quantity. And they're trying to figure out how to manage.
GREENE: But could this be a potentially good thing - if you have a Republican White House, a Republican House, a Republican Senate - for people who have ideas that they want to bring to Republicans? And you would be their way to get those ideas onto the Hill.
FEEHERY: Listen. There's going to be a lot of stuff happening on the Hill. Gridlock is gone, for good and for ill. And for anybody who wants stuff to move and get done, it's a real opportunity. If, on the other hand, you're worried about stuff getting done to you, you also have to be on the defensive. So I think any industry is evaluating all the pluses and minuses. Some are excited. Some are nervous. If you're in the green energy space, you're very nervous. If you're...
GREENE: Because you have a Republican - a Republican in control of everything.
FEEHERY: Exactly. And if you're the coal companies, you see this as a great opportunity. If you're worried about Dodd-Frank, you know, this is going to be a big opportunity for you because you can loosen some of those regulations.
GREENE: This is the banking law that restrain banks. And Donald Trump has talked about loosening that regulation.
FEEHERY: But there's all kinds of other industries that have no idea how to manage this 'cause they don't know who Donald Trump is going to put in place. You know, Donald Trump campaigned on a lot of big ideas. But there wasn't a whole lot of specifics. And Washington is now trying to figure out, can we figure out a way to make this work to our advantage.
GREENE: Give me an example, if you can, of maybe one of your clients who sees enormous opportunity here and maybe a type of client who's sort of more jittery right now.
FEEHERY: Well, for example, if you are looking to cut the corporate tax rate from world-leading 35 percent and you want to get down to a more manageable rate of 20 percent or 15 percent, you see this as an enormous opportunity because you have tax reform that's definitely going to come.
GREENE: Business like that would come to you, pay you to take their agenda to Capitol Hill. And they feel like they could make that happen pretty fast.
FEEHERY: Exactly, they think that this is a great opportunity to finally reform a tax code that hasn't been reformed since 1986, get more companies back in the United States. This is a big opportunity. Other clients are - that are concerned about - I've worked on immigration clients. They're very worried that this immigration reform can go the wrong way for them. So, you know, it's a mixed bag for a lot of people. And it's really important that if you're an industry that's affected, or any industry, that you pay close attention because things are going to happen, and they're going to happen fast.
GREENE: Things are going to happen, and they're going to happen fast makes me think that there are a lot of clients who are going to be coming to people like you, paying money to try and get things done. I mean, isn't this part of the swamp that Donald Trump talks about draining? It sounds like almost that the swamp could be filling up with more people who are trying to bring money in to get things done.
FEEHERY: I would think of it more as gridlock is finally breaking down. There's been a lot of stuff - and this happened with President Obama. When he became president, for the first two years, Democratic activists saw an opportunity to get a lot of their kind of wishlists done. And they did that.
I think that there's a lot of people on the conservative side that have been reacting to the Obama years. And they want to reverse some of those things, or they want progress on things. The fact is there's a swamp in Washington. Washington is built on a swamp. But this is also the place where we have a legislature where things have to happen for the good of the country.
GREENE: Well, help me resolve this tension. Donald Trump talks about draining the swamp. But there are people in his party who are going to want to pay a lot of money to get things done very quickly. I mean, those sound like competing forces.
FEEHERY: I think he's going to try to drain the swamp through a variety of ways. I think he's got a five-year ban on lobbyists, that he's going to promote, that work in his administration. And I think it's the self-dealing that drives people crazy. They go into the administration or they go into the State Department, and they deal with their friends. And then they make tons of money on the outside. It's going to be more difficult for lobbyists to go into this administration and then come right out in the revolving door. And that's...
GREENE: Go work in the administration and then come right back out and be a lobbyist.
FEEHERY: Correct, and make a lot of monies - I think it's going to be more difficult do that. Now, I think that Trump is not naive. He understands that the people who understand this town and how this town works are lobbyists. I think lobbyists are going to have a role in facilitating a lot of legislation being passed. But lobbyists - if Trump does it right, lobbyists are not going to get rich at the expense of the rest of the country. I think his vision - I'm assuming - is that he wants to get more wealth spread throughout the country.
GREENE: All right, John Feehery, great to talk to you, as always.
FEEHERY: Thank you, David.
GREENE: John Feehery is a Republican strategist and consultant. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.