Michael D'Antonio: President Trump's low approval rating has forced him to compromise with Democrats
GOP leaders failed to get him the political wins that he needed to legitimize his ability to govern, writes D'Antonio
Editor’s Note: Michael D’Antonio is the author of the book “Never Enough: Donald Trump and the Pursuit of Success” (St. Martin’s Press). The opinions expressed in this commentary are his.
A new administration in Washington is something like a new high school freshman class. They arrive full of energy and ambition, but in a short time the system reveals who is who, and the sorting begins.
In the case of the Trump administration, the “troublemaking” kids – Stephen Bannon, Sebastian Gorka, Michael Flynn and others – formed a clique with the President that made life hard for everyone, including him. But now they are gone, and he has found new friends named Sen. Charles “Chuck” Schumer and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, who may help him to apply himself to the work at hand.
Sen. Schumer is, like Trump, a New Yorker who can talk tough and doesn’t take it personally when others do, too. Rep. Pelosi is also a big city politician who doesn’t mind a scrap. Although they are both Democrats – the sort many Republicans consider denizens of the Dark Side – they are practical-minded politicians who understand they lead the minority in Congress.
They also may understand Trump better than the Republican leaders who have failed to deliver for the President on Capitol Hill.
Schumer, who has known Trump for decades and received campaign donations from him, understands that the man once known as The Donald is first and foremost a self-promoter. He did build a skyscraper in Manhattan and some golf courses and hotels around the country, but throughout his life his main construction project has been his own image.
The man wanted to be a brand and he achieved this goal by plastering his name on his projects and selling it to others who put it on theirs. He enhanced the value of the brand by saying outrageous things that got him free media attention.
The same Trump formula – say anything – helped him win the presidency. But for all of his pre-Election Day bravado, Trump was surprised by the victory. New to politics and rebuffed by many mainstream Republicans, he populated the White House with the people who labored in his campaign and then continued to act as if he was still running.
These activities gave Trump something to do as his inexperienced team groped its way around the White House without detailed policy plans or governing expertise.
Former National Security Adviser Flynn, who came to power as a controversial figure, became the first victim of the scandal surrounding Russia’s aid to the Trump campaign. Factions gathered behind the co-chiefs, Bannon and Reince Priebus, and the President relied on Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and House Speaker Paul Ryan to deliver legislative achievements.
In the chaos, an order banning Muslim visitors, fashioned by the Bannon crowd, was rejected by the courts, leaving the President humiliated. The promise to “repeal and replace” the health care system known as Obamacare was supposed to be fulfilled by Ryan and McConnell in consultations with Priebus, who was one of the few in the administration with mainstream credentials.
Ryan struggled to get a compromise, which Trump vainly celebrated with a party at the White House, through the House. Then, demonstrating his own ineptitude, Trump managed to alienate the fence sitters McConnell needed to finish the job in the Senate.
After repeal and replace died, Trump’s sliding poll numbers continued to drop, which meant that the brand he had cultivated for decades was in danger of being ruined. He may have been heartened by what he heard while tuned in to “Fox & Friends” in the morning, but he knew he wasn’t winning.
Today, the President, who knows his poll numbers, has freed himself of Bannon, Priebus, Flynn and others who were less than helpful playmates. Ryan and McConnell, who don’t seem to fully grasp that Trump is more interested in personal popularity than policy, are watching as the President seeks success through alliance with people he once verbally tormented.
Pelosi had the foresight to use the opening to press for help for the Dreamers and now she and Schumer are collaborating with Trump on it.
Next on the Washington agenda come tax reform and, perhaps, the single-payer health care idea authored by Sen. Bernie Sanders (another New Yorker) and gathering support from his fellow Democrats. If Ryan and McConnell don’t fear losing to their rivals on these issues, they should think again. Long before he ran for President, Donald Trump was both a registered independent and a Democrat and he had kind words to say about government-backed, single-payer health care.
And he once called for an extra tax to be levied on the rich – something anathema to mainstream Republicans – as a way of dealing with the national debt.
This is the kind of thinking that could make Donald, Chuck and Nancy BFNs – best friends for now– while leaving Paul and Mitch on the outside of the cool kids’ clique.