President Donald Trump did something that stupefied official Washington last week, siding with Democrats as Congress tried to pass funding to keep the government open and help Texas hurricane victims, all as Irma bore down on the Caribbean (and Florida).
His deal with “Chuck and Nancy” foiled a carefully plotted Republican legislative strategy. It was certainly something new to see a Republican working with Democrats. But how big a deal was it really – and is it a sign of things to come?
CNN’s Z. Byron Wolf and Gregory Krieg were of two minds – so they broke it down on email:
Wolf: Greg – I’ve been marinating on this all week and I’m becoming more convinced that this little maneuver on a short-term spending bill that will ultimately be forgotten to history was one of the most consequential and disruptive things he’s done as President. And Peter Baker wrote something similar in The New York Times over the weekend (I wish I’d written it first!).
Can you imagine Barack Obama having forsaken Harry Reid and Nancy Pelosi to make a deal with John Boehner? You can’t. It wouldn’t have happened.
The thing that really frustrates people about Washington is the partisan logjam, which has been fortified over past few decades. The two sides don’t work together because they’re in opposing fox holes and they never come out. Trump is 100% out of the fox hole here. That’s an incredible thing.
Krieg: Hi boss. First off, I agree with you on two points:
- No one will remember this deal (except some Republican officials salty over Trump undermining them).
- The way in which he did it was absolutely unlike anything we’re accustomed to seeing, vis-à-vis a President breaking with his own party. Obviously, it’s happened before, but never so brazenly – with no regard or respect for party leadership.
That said, we differ on what it all means going forward. The Times piece was subject to some spirited – and fair, in my mind – criticism over the weekend for reading too much into what happened. So there’s clearly a disconnect here and I think it boils down to a few things.
To start, Trump has in the space of two-plus years done and said so much that there is no way for him to scale this kind of negotiating. There is too much bad blood. Even if he woke up tomorrow, apologized for his comments about immigrants, Muslims, the Access Hollywood video (again and in much stronger terms), reversed himself on DACA, renounced “the wall,” etc., he would still be radioactive, politically, to Democrats. And let’s be real, he’s not going to do any of that. Ever. So rather than create new room for future deals, I think he’s only just further isolated himself and handed a strategic advantage to Democrats.
But I don’t want to take us too far afield. To your point about Obama and Boehner – didn’t they came this close to a so-called “grand bargain” back in 2011? Obama was going to trade some cuts to Medicare and Social Security for tax hikes. You don’t think there’s a bit of wishful thinking in the Beltway, for nothing if not a new narrative?
Wolf: I will grant you a few points here. I don’t think Trump is operating with some grand scheme to break the two-party stranglehold. At least, there’s no evidence of that level of strategy. Plus, most of what he’s done as an executive is in step with Republican orthodoxy.
But the idea of a President working with either party to do the right thing – that’s the great opportunity, unrealized so far, of having an executive not beholden to the factions on Capitol Hill.
If you’re looking for a the pop culture equivalent and stripping away politics and subplot and romance, Trump jumping onto a short-term funding bill with “Chuck and Nancy,” as he called them, is sort of like that scene in “The American President” – and I know Rob Reiner will choke if he reads this – where the President goes for the environmental bill.
Pass the funding to help the hurricane victims. Do it quickly. Work together. Why turn that into a negotiation over how long to raise the debt ceiling? That’s going to be the most lasting outcome of President Trump’s action. The nuance of why it’s bad for Republicans is sure to be lost on just about every voter. Will this make things a little different for Republicans later? Absolutely! Does Trump ultimately care how hard things are for Mitch McConnell and Paul Ryan? Clearly not, since the things he’s demanded from them (repeated health care votes and a border wall) are continuously making their lives difficult.
Krieg: Glad you brought up “Chuck and Nancy”!
One has to wonder if they – and you made this point to me the other day – are in a little danger of their own here. What if Trump, currently bathing in the warm reception to their debt ceiling deal, offers to huddle with Democratic leadership on a real public infrastructure plan?
THAT would certainly change the equation in a meaningful way. Still, if stranger things have happened, I can’t think of one right now. Schumer and Pelosi, I expect, will low-ball Trump on all sorts of things and hope he bites – because he wants another taste of those good reviews on “the shows.” But they’re too savvy (being in the minority helps in this respect) to get drawn in any deeper.
The big picture, as I see it, is this: Trump is surrounded by people who have dedicated their lives to things like ending DACA protections (Sessions, Miller) or the privatization of public goods (basically all elected Republicans). He is, personally, also committed to delivering on his campaign promises. And almost all those things are nonstarters with Democrats. He’ll buck “McRyan,” but not his base.
Trump’s like a ballplayer who’s struck out in 50 straight at-bats, then gets a juicy hanging curveball, right down the middle (i.e. this offer from the Dems), and hits it 450 feet for a home run to center field. Suddenly, people are saying he could be another Mickey Mantle! But I doubt it. Looking ahead to his next time at the plate, I’m betting he strikes out again.
Wolf: I think you have to look at these things a bit differently in this era.
You have a point on DACA. But if you deconstruct it a little, Trump’s forced Republicans like Paul Ryan, albeit by threatening the peace and state of mind of the so-called “Dreamers,” to address the larger problem, and he’s going to have to do it with Democrats.
On infrastructure, that’s always been an area Trump is more in line with Democrats.
The other great surprise recently was John McCain rejecting his party and jumping out of the fox hole to reject a premature Obamacare repeal.
There’s something going on in all of that.
Krieg: I absolutely agree that he has upended the normal order of business in Washington. And that his ideology, such as it is, or “Trumpism” more generally, is best defined as “doing what Trump wants and what Trump believes will make him look most powerful in the moment.” Which can sometimes lend itself to bipartisanship more easily than thinking in a liberal/conservative, left/right way. And that the resulting incentive loop can be disorienting. Hence our argument.
Where we split here is basically a character assessment.
I think you’re saying – stop me if I’m wrong! – that Trump is capable of consistently acting in accordance with his particular desires and interests (e.g. infrastructure). I disagree. I think he thrives on chaos and resentment and kinda stumbled into the current moment. There isn’t any evidence that I’m aware of suggesting he can sustain this.
Wolf: Yep. No evidence that he can sustain it or that he wants to. But you can’t deny that there is some evidence in the Trump era, intentional or not, of some bipartisanship.