Trump this week struck a deal with congressional Democrats
He has a habit of creating alliances and then ending them abruptly
A Trump biographer says, "He has never had to agree with someone to use them"
Donald Trump’s new best friends “Chuck and Nancy” probably shouldn’t get too chummy with the President just yet.
That’s because the political whiplash that Washington experienced with Trump’s dance with Democratic House leader Nancy Pelosi and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer proved that in the President’s world, there are no permanent political friends, no permanent political enemies, just his own unpredictable interests.
And if Democrats need further evidence of the fragile half life of Trump’s political friendships, they might consider the cast of his pinballing political orbit, like Gary Cohn, Rex Tillerson, Steve Bannon and Reince Priebus, all of whom have been up, down and sometimes out in his tumultuous eight months in power.
Still, there’s no doubt the President left Washington reverberating to its partisan roots. His deal with Democrats for a three-month extension to the federal borrowing limit was an astonishing snub to GOP leaders.
After leaving Republicans – who wanted an 18-month extension – high and dry, Trump enthused about his Democratic partners, mooted a future deal on the fate of undocumented migrants brought to the US as children.
“Chuck and Nancy would like to see something happen, and so do I,” he said.
The way Trump makes connections
In retrospect, it’s surprising that everyone was surprised.
After all, it’s long been clear that Trump is estranged from GOP establishment leaders like House Speaker Paul Ryan and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, impatient at their failure to advance his agenda.
And he has a habit of developing a crush on political allies and aides, and then souring on them when they fail to match his exacting standards of loyalty.
So while a conventional President might have thought twice about humiliating the two Capitol Hill leaders who control the destiny of his political agenda, Trump probably didn’t give it a second thought.
“These relationships are completely transactional and there is no philosophical affinity required,” said Michael D’Antonio, author of the book “The Truth About Trump” and a CNN commentator. “He has never had to agree with someone to use them. It’s all completely opportunistic.”
By jamming Republicans with a demand to pass a law to protect the so-called dreamers and by claiming a short-term win – including billions in hurricane relief funding – while snubbing his supposed GOP friends, Trump carved conservative divides much wider.
“I would not be surprised to see President Trump become the first sitting President to run against a ‘do nothing’ Congress controlled by his own party,” said Alvin Tillery, professor of political science at Northwestern University.
Texas Sen. Ted Cruz saw this coming. While he was losing to Trump in the primaries, he predicted his foe would rush to do a deal with Democrats if he was elected President.
But Trump, who once told Americans he would do so much winning on their behalf that they would be sick of winning, has been desperate for a win after a threadbare first eight months as President.
And the message from Wednesday was that if the GOP could not deliver victories for him, he would go looking elsewhere.
Since he stormed the national political stage, it’s been clear that in many ways, the notion of political friendships, permanent alliances and immovable principles are foreign to Trump.
He often looks like a third-party candidate tearing at the GOP from within. And it’s pretty obvious he made a deal with Pelosi and Schumer because he believed it helped him at the time.
‘A different relationship’
By Thursday morning, Trump was on the phone with his two former Democratic antagonists, even as Republicans fretted he had played directly into their hands.
The most polarizing President of modern times, in a week in which he was denounced by Democrats as callous for sending 800,000 undocumented migrants into limbo, then declared a new bipartisan era had dawned.
“I think we will have a different relationship than you’ve been watching over the last number of years,” Trump told reporters. “I hope so.”
Since Trump seems rarely to plot five moves ahead as many Washington insider players do, it might not concern him that he’s probably stacked up a huge political showdown for December, when the debt ceiling must be raised again, and with Democrats possibly ready to hold him hostage.
For clues about how Trump would behave, Republicans might have cast an eye at his White House, where advisers are often unveiled with hyperbole but where political fortunes often prove fungible.
Not so long ago, Trump delighted in unveiling Cohn, his new top economic adviser and a wealthy former investment banker like a trophy at photo-ops.
“You all know Gary from Goldman,” Trump told manufacturing CEOs in February. “(He) just paid $200 million in tax in order to take this job, by the way … But he’s great.”
In the Kremlinology of Trump’s West Wing, Cohn was once seen as a guru for Trump.
No longer. Two sources close to the President told CNN Thursday his dream of running the Federal Reserve is sunk, after he criticized Trump’s response to racially motivated violence in Charlottesville.
A GOP source close to the White House told CNN’s Jake Tapper that Cohn is “more likely to get electric chair than Fed Chair.”
Another fallen star in Trump’s orbit, Bannon, turned the knife Thursday, telling CBS News that Cohn should have resigned.
Secretary of State Tillerson may be another faded Trump crush.
“I have tremendous respect for him. He’s a world class player,” Trump told “Fox News Sunday” as he lined up Tillerson to be secretary of state.
But a GOP source told CNN’s Jim Acosta this week that the President was souring at Tillerson’s establishment style. “What change is he bringing?” the source asked.
Since his election, Trump has damned supposed allies and foes alike with faint praise before turning on them.
He once described now former chief of staff Priebus as “one of the top Greeks in the country.” Sen. Bob Corker was a “fantastic guy” until he got a Twitter lashing for questioning Trump’s stability. Ryan was a “good guy.” After leading birther conspiracies and before accusing former President Barack Obama of wiretapping him, Trump called him a “very good man” when they met in the Oval Office and the President-elect wanted to appear presidential.
Each example has one thing in common – all of those lauded were momentarily placed to provide reflected glory, praise or political advantage to Trump, just as Pelosi and Schumer were this week.
The two Democrats have been in Washington for decades and may have calculated that Trump was ready for a deal, any deal.
But McConnell and Ryan aren’t exactly Beltway neophytes either. And Republicans are likely to remember what happened Wednesday the next time Trump comes to them and demands loyalty and a tough vote.
This time, the GOP just happened to be on the wrong end of the deal. Next time, it could be different and Pelosi and Schumer might get burned.
But now, at least, everyone knows how the President’s mind works.
“If you recognize you are dealing with this kind of creature and can work with what he gives you, then you might think ‘OK, so he wants to win, he doesn’t really care how he wins, and I don’t think he is very discriminating about the prize,’” D’Antonio said.
CNN’s MJ Lee, Jim Acosta, Sara Murray and Kevin Liptak contributed to this report.