Washington (CNN)Of all the ways to try to understand Donald Trump, the one I keep returning to is professional wrestling.
Donald Trump just executed a 'heel' turn Hulk Hogan would be proud of
There's the obvious reasons -- Trump is personally close to Vince McMahon, the owner of World Wrestling Entertainment, Linda McMahon is his Small Business Administrator, the President has previously appeared on WWE shows, etc.
But then there are the less obvious similarities: The reality TV nature of the whole production, the winking "we all know this is fake, right?" element, the theatrics, the wildly-swinging storylines and the massive divide between the hoi polloi who love it and the elites who turn their noses up at it.
Which brings me to Trump's stunning move Wednesday when he sided with Democratic leaders Nancy Pelosi and Chuck Schumer on a deal that keeps the government open, extends the debt ceiling and ensures the rapid approval of nearly $8 billion in recovery funds for victims of Hurricane Harvey.
The move stunned Republicans -- starting with House Speaker Paul Ryan and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, who had pushed for an 18-month extension of the debt ceiling and hoped to squeeze some concessions from Democrats in the deal.
"The remarkable turn of events left Republican congressional leaders, in control of both chambers of the legislative branch, 'shell-shocked' and 'visibly annoyed,'" wrote CNN's Jeff Zeleny, Dana Bash, Deirdre Walsh and Jeremy Diamond on Wednesday night.
For any fan of pro wrestling -- and I am very much one -- Trump's move on Wednesday was easily understood. It was a classic 'heel' turn.
A bit of (quick) wrestling background is helpful here: The world of pro wrestling is split roughly evenly between "babyfaces" (good guys) and "heels" (bad guys). That Manichean worldview, by the way, also informs how Trump sees the world. For the most part, the good guys stay good guys and the bad guys stay bad guys.
But, when a storyline begins to lag or the fans start to lose interest, the script writers (yes, pro wrestling is fake and scripted!) employ the heel turn -- taking a good guy and making him bad.
The most famous heel turn ever came in 1996 when Hulk Hogan -- the longest-running and most famous babyface ever -- turned to side with notable baddies Kevin Nash and Scott Hall. He threw off Hulk Hogan and became Hollywood Hogan.
The heel turn works for lots of reasons: Because it's a betrayal of the fan base, an overturning of expectations, an "I can't believe he did that" moment. But the biggest reason a heel turn works is it confirms fans' ever-present suspicions that fill-in-the-blank wrestler was actually a bad guy masquerading as a good guy all along! We knew it!
Consider the psychology of the heel turn in the context of what Trump did to Republicans on Wednesday -- and what he seemed to compound Thursday when he sent a reassuring tweet about DACA recipients apparently at the behest of Pelosi.
"For Conservatives, Trump's Deal With Democrats Is Nightmare Come True," reads the headline of a New York Times piece on the Trump deal. In it, Jeremy Peters and Maggie Haberman write:
"It is the scenario that President Trump's most conservative followers considered their worst nightmare, and on Wednesday it seemed to come true: The dealmaking political novice, whose ideology and loyalty were always fungible, cut a deal with Democrats."
For Trump, the heel turn made perfect sense. He had been signaling it for a while with his Twitter blasts at McConnell and other Republicans. He loves upsetting expectations. And, like most pro wrestlers (and pro wrestling promoters), Trump's ultimate loyalty isn't to one side or the other -- it's to the best, most watchable story.
That, for rank and file Republicans, should be absolutely terrifying. If Trump is Hulk/Hollywood Hogan -- and I think he is -- then all bets are off.