Kyle Wingfield

Political commentary and opinion from The Atlanta Journal-Constitution's conservative blogger

Why the Trump administration will have a lot of energy to it


If you have been wondering how, from a practical standpoint, Donald Trump plans to fulfill his pledge to "make America great again," his cabinet selections couldn't convey it any more clearly. It's energy, energy, energy.

Secretary of state? The CEO of Exxon Mobil .

Secretary of energy? The ex-governor of the nation's leading energy-producing state ( Texas ).

Secretary of commerce? A longtime investor in steel and coal companies (among other industries).

Head of the EPA? The attorney general of another energy-rich state ( Oklahoma ).

The U.S. has the world's largest oil reserves . But that statistic is only meaningful if techniques such as fracking can be used to reach them; otherwise, we fall a few spots -- and many billions of barrels -- down the list. Democratic opinion has been split on the issue but trending away from support for fracking. Republicans have had no such reservations, and now Trump seems poised to supercharge the energy boom that was responsible for a disproportionate share of job growth in the first years of the recovery.

There are already signs that left-wing activists want to turn the Trump cabinet confirmation hearings into a debate about climate change, starting with State nominee Rex Tillerson. If Democrats' goal is to sink an actual nominee or two, rather than simply placating some of their political allies, they couldn't be more wrong about how to do it -- or why it's Trump, rather than Hillary Clinton, who's forming a cabinet in the first place.

I recommend this piece from last week by National Journal's Josh Kraushaar on why environmental issues may have helped undermine Clinton's candidacy. The gist is here:

"(T)he most glar­ing prob­lem for the Demo­crat­ic Party is an un­will­ing­ness to even en­ter­tain the pos­sib­il­ity that its policy agenda had any­thing to do with its stun­ning de­feat. Even Re­pub­lic­ans, thanks to their na­tion­al com­mit­tee's 'autopsy re­port' in the af­ter­math of Mitt Rom­ney's loss, con­cluded that the party had to take a more mod­er­ate stance on im­mig­ra­tion to win fu­ture elec­tions. Demo­crats have done no sim­il­ar soul-search­ing.

"Let me of­fer a piece of un­so­li­cited ad­vice, one that Demo­crat­ic strategists have dis­cussed privately but are reti­cent to pro­mote pub­licly for fear of ali­en­at­ing green act­iv­ists. Tak­ing a more mod­er­ate stand on en­ergy policy -- wheth­er it's sup­port­ing the Key­stone XL pipeline, cham­pi­on­ing the frack­ing boom that's trans­form­ing re­gion­al eco­nom­ies, or simply sound­ing a more skep­tic­al note on the Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion's lit­any of en­vir­on­ment­al reg­u­la­tions -- would do won­ders for the Demo­crat­ic Party's abil­ity to com­pete for the work­ing-class voters who have drif­ted away from the party.

"If the GOP gains in the Mid­w­est were an an­om­aly, per­haps Demo­crats could af­ford to cater to their en­vir­on­ment­al base. But this wasn't the first time that Demo­crats lost sig­ni­fic­ant ground in the re­gion. In 2010, they lost a whop­ping 63 seats in the House in part be­cause of failed cap-and-trade le­gis­la­tion; over one-third of the seats they lost were in the Mid­w­est. Re­pub­lic­ans am­ped up their at­tacks on Obama's en­vir­on­ment­al policies dur­ing the 2014 midterms -- air­ing more than 26,000 spots cit­ing the En­vir­on­ment­al Pro­tec­tion Agency -- and swept nearly every com­pet­it­ive Sen­ate race on their way to the ma­jor­ity.

"Take the Key­stone XL pipeline as a stand-in for voter sen­ti­ment on the bal­ance between pro­tect­ing the en­vir­on­ment and pro­du­cing jobs. A March 2014 Pew Re­search Cen­ter poll, con­duc­ted dur­ing the Key­stone de­bate, found that a 49 per­cent plur­al­ity of Demo­crats sup­por­ted build­ing the pipeline -- even though the pres­id­ent and top party lead­ers op­posed it. Among work­ing-class Demo­crats (those who made less than $50,000 a year), sup­port for the Key­stone pro­ject out­dis­tanced op­pos­i­tion by a whop­ping 22 points (54 to 32). When your party's own voters are at odds with its elite, it's a re­cipe for dis­aster. Don­ald Trump’s Mid­west­ern sweep was the cul­min­a­tion of these long-stand­ing trends."

This is easier said than done. Who was the No. 1 donor in the 2016 cycle ? Environmental activist Tom Steyer, whose $67.5 million was more than 17 times the amount given by the oh-so-nefarious Charles Koch (whose brother, David, didn't crack the top 100 list). What are the chances Democrats walk away from his money and influence? Not great. There is very likely to be a tea party-esque schism among Democrats very soon now that they will be totally without power come January, just as the GOP was in 2009. Environmental issues could be the fault line along which the party fractures.

In the meantime, Trump and his cabinet will be making it easier for oil and gas firms to tap into those reserves, creating a lot of jobs in the process. As the stats listed by Kraushaar indicate, those moves will be popular beyond the GOP base. They could also have the knock-on effects of 1) making energy cheaper so that U.S. manufacturing becomes more competitive without renegotiating a single trade deal, and 2) fueling higher tax revenues to pay for the infrastructure spending Trump has repeatedly touted.

Combine the latter with corporate tax reform that includes a special rate on repatriated funds -- something I expect Trump to try in his first few months, since it's his best bet for an early, bipartisan policy win -- and we could be looking at tens if not hundreds of billions of dollars in fresh revenues. Plopping them all into an infrastructure bonanza wouldn't be the most economically efficient or useful act, as President Obama learned the hard way (just Google "stimulus shovel ready projects"). But a smart deployment of new revenues to projects with strict, measurable criteria could make sense and put more blue-collar Americans to work. Not to mention the private-sector boom that would come from simply bringing $1 trillion or more off the sidelines and injecting it into the economy.

This isn't your father's Republican policy agenda (for that, look to what Congress produces on taxes, entitlements and health care) but it is the kind of program that could give a temporary jolt to the U.S. economy while wrong-footing Democrats. It's very likely the method behind what liberals will try to brand as madness.


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About the Author

Kyle Wingfield joined the AJC in 2009. He is a native of Dalton and a graduate of the University of Georgia.