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CEO Daily: Trump’s hidden hand

Saturday Morning Post: The Weekly View from Washington

At 6:19 AM on Friday morning, hours before Donald Trump huddled with top U.S. intelligence officials for a briefing on Russia’s interference with the election, the president-elect fired up his Twitter account. In the first of seven missives he sent before that midday meeting, Trump called out the “dishonest media” for reporting that American taxpayers could be stuck with the bill for building a border wall, rather than Mexico covering the cost, as he promised on the campaign. (Mexico will reimburse us, he said.) He went on to tweet about how NBC’s rejiggered “Celebrity Apprentice” performed in the ratings; and why he was starting his day by venturing downtown to meet with Condé Nast editors (Vogue’s Anna Wintour invited him); and announced that he’d asked Congressional chairs to investigate how NBC got ahold of the intelligence community’s report on Russian hacking before he did. For those accustomed to Trump’s seemingly stream-of-consciousness social media broadcasts, none of this registered as particularly remarkable. It is. Two weeks before his inauguration, with his transition in full swing and an unprecedented incursion into our democratic process by a hostile foreign power yet to be addressed, the breadth of distractions Trump is invoking could be cause for alarm.

Is it possible, however, there’s a deeper game afoot? Is Trump taking a page from the leadership playbook of the last man to assume the presidency without any prior experience in elected office? Dwight D. Eisenhower frequently presented as an affable but bumbling figure, a profile he cultivated in order to conceal a highly active and aggressive prosecution of his power behind the scenes. The full extent of the strategy — what Princeton historian Fred Greenstein came to call “the hidden-hand presidency” — didn’t become clear until decades later, when Ike’s presidential papers went public. Trump’s closest advisors already insist he’s operating with far more guile than his detractors understand. After all, it’s gotten him this far. Eisenhower, too, was underestimated, starting with the man he succeeded (Harry Truman said Ike’s inexperience in politics would cripple him, predicting, “He’ll sit here and he’ll say, ‘Do this, do that,’ and nothing will happen.”) But Eisenhower secured and preserved the peace, threatening our enemies with nuclear annihilation while leveraging cheap covert force to check Communist ambitions abroad. At home, he oversaw massive infrastructure investments that he balanced against the urgency of Cold War defense spending, reasoning in a 1953 speech, “The cost of one modern heavy bomber is this: a modern brick school in more than 30 cities.”

Is Trump up to the task? If he’s successfully playing a hidden hand — say, by dangling shiny objects from his Twitter account to mask a far more disciplined agenda — we may not soon know it. Of course there remains the real possibility, if not probability, that what we’re seeing is precisely what we’re getting. The answer to that question, and many more hovering over a transformed dynamic in Washington, will carry world-shifting consequences for business, as Republicans prepare to overhaul the healthcare system, rewrite the tax code and roll back regulations. That’s why we’re excited to announce the launch of the latest addition to our stable of newsletters. We’re calling it Trumponomics Daily. Five days a week, it’ll bring you breaking news and insights into what the changes out of government mean for private enterprise. We hope you’ll join us by signing up here: http://fortune.com/gettrumponomicsdaily/.

Tory Newmyer
@torynewmyer
tory_newmyer@fortune.com

Top News

• U.S. intel report finds Putin ordered cyberattacks to help Trump

The Russian president ordered a vast cyberattack on the U.S. with the explicit aim of hurting Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton’s candidacy while boosting Trump’s. That’s the conclusion of a newly declassified report from American intelligence services, published Friday after top intel officers spent two hours in Trump Tower briefing the president-elect on their findings. Trump in a series of tweets on Saturday morning continued his pattern of deflecting blame from the Russian perpetrators, instead blaming weak Democratic Party defenses for their victimization. But the report is damning and unequivocal: Russian leadership directed a multi-front cyber information attack to help Trump win the presidency. The report comes at a precarious moment for the intelligence community, which Trump has criticized as it’s developed consensus on Russia’s involvement. Before his Friday briefing, Trump called the focus on the attacks a “political witch hunt” directed by his opponents to discredit his election victory.  New York Times

• Republican Senators pump brakes on Obamacare repeal

At the beginning of the week, it seemed newly-empowered Republicans were on track to rapidly repeal President Obama’s signature healthcare overhaul. But growing doubts among a key cohort of Senate Republicans about what will replace it appear to be complicating the push. Four of them now have publicly expressed a preference for unifying behind a replacement plan before tearing up the current system — a bloc, if it voted accordingly, that would stymie the GOP plan to vote now to unwind the law in two or three years while the party crafts an alternative. Voters appear to share the Republican rump group’s skepticism of the party’s approach, with a new poll from the Kaiser Family Foundation finding only 20% support repealing Obamacare without a replacement plan in place (while 28% support a simultaneous repeal-and-replace strategy and 47% back leaving the law in place).  Washington Post

• Employment growth slowed in 2016

The December jobs report released Friday makes it official: 2016 was the second straight year of slowing employment growth in the U.S. The economy added 2.2 million jobs over the course of the year, down from about 2.7 million in 2015 and just over 3 million in 2014. But the report shouldn’t be setting off alarm bells: Employers added 156,000 workers to their rolls, less than the 170,000 economists expected and enough to push the jobless rate up a tick to 4.7% yet nothing to panic about. And wages were up 2.9% in December from a year ago.  Fortune

Around the Water Cooler

• Trump-affiliated swamp creatures cash in

Trump’s campaign pledge to “drain the swamp” in Washington notwithstanding, the capital’s influence industry is seeing an influx of operatives already seeking to monetize close ties to the president-elect. Stuart Jolly, a charter member of Trump’s campaign who became its national field director, has taken a gig leading a boutique firm called SPG. Former campaign manager Corey Lewandowski and top advisor Barry Bennett last month opened a new lobbying shop in the same building as the Trump transition. Jim Murphy, Trump’s former political director, recently joined BakerHostetler, a lobbying powerhouse. And established lobbyists who helped rally support for Trump during the campaign as more establishment Republicans shunned him are expected to command higher rates in the coming year.  Politico

 

• Ivanka Trump taps Goldman charity chief as advisor

As Trump’s eldest daughter prepares to take on a still-undefined role in her father’s incoming administration, an early clue about her focus could come from one her first significant personnel decisions: She is reportedly tapping Dina Powell, the 42-year-old head of Goldman Sachs’s Impact Investing Team and president of the firm’s foundation — as a top advisor. Powell oversees Goldman’s “10,000 Women” initiative, aimed at boosting female entrepreneurs around the world, and has emerged as a forceful advocate for women’s economic empowerment. And she’s no stranger to the White House, having directed George W. Bush’s presidential personnel office when she was just 29.  Fortune

• Bill Gross compares Trump to Mussolini

The famous bond investor on Friday compared Trump’s practice of pressuring American companies to move production back to the U.S. to Mussolini’s bullying of corporate interests in the Italy he ruled. Gross has been an outspoken critic of the president-elect, and it goes without saying that likening Trump to a murderous dictator isn’t meant to be flattering. Gross further argued that Mussolini’s iron grip on industry eventually helped unravel his 21-year hold on power.  Fortune