With the election of Donald Trump, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and House Speaker Paul Ryan made a Faustian bargain. They embraced Trump—an impulsive and ignorant man, filled with racial animus—with the hope they could ride his popularity with conservative voters to enact their agenda of tax cuts and deregulation.
Their corruption caught up with them on Wednesday. Trump humiliated the Republican leaders by siding with their Democratic counterparts Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi. In a White House meeting, Trump blindsided his allies and endorsed the Democrats’ proposal for hurricane relief and raising the debt ceiling.
The Republican coalition in Washington, which seemed triumphant nine months ago, is disintegrating. The party’s plans are “in chaos,” thanks to Trump. Just a month ago, Capitol Hill conservatives and Trump were threatening a government shutdown to force the Democrats to fund a border wall and accept cuts in social spending.
Now the Democrats have the advantage. That’s how desperate the president is for something he can call a win. With control of all three branches of government, Capitol Republicans have enacted none of Trump’s legislative agenda: not a border wall, not Obamacare repeal, not tax cuts, not tax reform, not an infrastructure jobs program.
Trump has tired of his former allies. He can sense what the world sees: Paul Ryan is a weak and craven man. The speaker supported the Dreamer program to protect immigrant youth. When Trump rescinded it, Ryan dutifully said he “did the right thing.”
Trump no longer trusts McConnell, whose cynicism and guile have not delivered any victories that make the president look good. Their last conversation reportedly ended in an expletive-laden shouting match.
So for the first time in his flailing presidency, Trump reached out to Democrats and abandoned the hardcore conservatives who have supported him most loyally. Devoid of principles and political loyalties, Trump doesn’t care about coherence. His abrupt move, which left Schumer barely able to contain his glee, was a classic exercise in male dominance: humiliate to prevail.
To show his contempt for Ryan and McConnell, Trump embraced their more liberal rivals, and then flew off for a photo op with Sen. Heidi Heitkamp, a Democrat running for reelection in a state that Trump won big—North Dakota.
McConnell hopes to defeat her in 2018; Trump made her the first Democrat to ride on Air Force One since he took office. Take that, Mitch.
In the psycho-social vocabulary of the right, Trump reduced Ryan and McConnell to “cucks,” contemptibly weak men. This soothes the president’s needy ego at the same time it undermines the Republican agenda and his own administration.
In the political reality of Washington, the Democrats now have leverage to protect President Obama’s legacy.
The eternal right-wing threat of government shutdown was blown away by hurricanes Harvey and Irma, which confirmed the reality that government is a good and necessary thing. By forcing Republicans to vote on a debt-ceiling increase this year, Trump has empowered the Democrats to protect social spending that the hard right hoped to curb.
Trump rescinded the Dreamers program, but not in person. He made clear he might go along if Congress codified the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrvials (DACA) program into law, something President Obama repeatedly tried and failed to do.
“Chuck and Nancy want to see something happen [on DACA] and so do I,” he said, before flying off for his date with Heitkamp.
Trump still talks about repealing Obamacare, but he needs MConnell to do that—and Wednesday’s betrayal makes that much less likely. He needs Republican unity to secure financing for his beloved and foolish border wall—but talking chummily of “Chuck and Nancy” is not likely to encourage it.
The man-child president has created the possibility of the Republicans’ worst nightmare coming true.
The Washington Post observes:
Republicans could end the year with no major conservative accomplishments to show for their complete control of Washington. This scenario would not only leave Obamacare as the law of the land, but also in better financial standing, and grant long-term legal status to the “dreamers.”
That would have been considered a good first year in office for President Hillary Clinton.