Deal or No Deal in Washington
By: Scott Jennings
It’s really amazing how far the political ball can bounce in a short period of time.
On August 22, President Donald Trump forcefully declared to his supporters at a rally in Arizona: “If we have to close down our government, we’re building that wall!” His legions roared, recalling the euphoria of Trump’s 2016 campaign rallies.
A scant 16 days later President Trump found himself in the Oval Office taking a debt ceiling deal from Chuck Schumer that included no concessions on the wall, and serving as a stenographer for Nancy Pelosi, who wrote the president’s tweet reassuring Dreamers (children in the United States with parents who came illegally) they would not be deported under the president’s DACA decision.
As philosopher Clark Griswold once said, “If I woke up tomorrow with my head sewn to the carpet, I wouldn’t be more surprised than I am right now.”
I was driving my son to a baseball game this weekend and wound up behind a pickup truck featuring a “Fire Nancy Pelosi” bumper sticker. It was a bit faded, leftover from years of successful Republican House campaigns that made Pelosi the villain. I have no doubt the driver voted for Trump last November; I wondered how he felt about the turn of events in Washington.
The reality is he may not care all that much. The latest NBC News / Wall Street Journal poll found 98 percent of Trump primary voters approve of his job as president.
Why do people who for years bought into a political narrative that the so-called Republican establishment in Washington wasn’t conservative enough (too willing to give up on principles when pushed by Democrats) now fully and completely place their trust in a man whose happiest moment as president was generated by watching liberal media outlets fawn over his acquiescence to Schumer and Pelosi?
Because for them, the Trump presidency is not about fulfilling lifelong dreams of enacting conservative policy ideas (sorry Freedom Caucus). It’s about dragging our politically correct culture back from the left and generating movement. Any movement will do, so long as we banish the stagnation that has plagued Washington.
They’ve been watching the same show for years and are damn tired of it, ready to change the channel to just about anything else. And Trump is giving us a show unlike anything we’ve seen before, with enough twists and turns to satisfy a viewing public bored with stale characters and the same old plot lines.
After the president’s Charlottesville communications debacle, he has been on something of a winning streak. Trump’s hurricane response has drawn praise and his deal with Schumer and Pelosi, to take the glass half full view, cleared up some legislative space for Congress to hammer out tax reform. Trump’s decision on DACA, while causing some Republicans to squirm, was the right call and will hopefully bring certainty codified in U.S. law to people who deserve a sturdier legal status than Barack Obama’s constitutionally flimsy executive order. Trump picked the best of some bad options in a situation not of his making.
For conservatives who fear a new world order in which Trump governs the country like a maverick with Schumer and Pelosi serving as his Iceman and Goose, there’s no need to worry. The deal he cut last week—while irritating to some elements of the GOP—was simply the fastest way to deliver an initial tranche of recovery money to hurricane-ravaged Texas.
And it salved the ego of a president who, as one senior administration official put it, “just wanted to do something popular.” Tired of suffering one bad news cycle after another, Trump, like the agonized rich man desperate for but a single drop of water on his tongue, desperately wanted a few days of winning in the eyes of the media.
When the rubber hits the road on the president’s policy priorities – chiefly tax reform – the Democrats who supported this deal won’t touch Trump with a ten-foot poll. Ultimately, for Trump to keep up the momentum of the last two weeks, he’ll need Paul Ryan, Mitch McConnell, the Freedom Caucus, and the rest of the Republican Party to support the deep tax cuts he desperately (and correctly) desires.
While the president feels good about his recent press, there is reason to worry about his political future. He needs to bolster—not badmouth—the Republican-led Congress facing reelection next year. If Trump’s immovable base takes its cues from their leader and sits out the midterm, it may lead to the terrible outcome of Democratic control. A president’s first midterm is historically bad enough, and there is growing concern that a wave of Republican retirements is coming in tough-to-hold districts.
If the Democrats take over, the president’s happy memories with Schumer and Pelosi will be long forgotten, replaced with subpoenas and Articles of Impeachment faster than you can say “hashtag resistance.” What awaits him under a Congress controlled by his frenemies Schumer and Pelosi will feel like getting sucked into the tenth level of hell.
And that’s a show in which no Republican president wants a starring role.