The key bit comes at 5:40 of the clip. Money line: “I always had a great relationship with Harry Reid. And frankly, if I weren’t running for office I’d be able to deal with her [Pelosi], I’d be able to deal with Reid, I’d be able to deal with anybody.” This point has been made often, most recently by Andy McCarthy, but it can’t be repeated enough: This guy is on the verge of beating Ted Cruz as an “outsider” by touting his record of cronyism. How can you be anti-establishment, wonders McCarthy, when you’re crowing about your history of essentially bribing politicians, including politicians from the other party? It’s a perfect complement to Trump, the least socially conservative candidate in the Republican field, landing the endorsement of the son of the man who founded the Moral Majority. Trump’s success is like a flashing road sign, “Republicans don’t actually care about most of the things they claim to care about.”
Three points. One: To reiterate the takeaway from last night’s post, Trump feels free to tout his chumminess with Pelosi et al. only because he has absolute confidence that there’s nothing he could say or do that would alienate his base. (In this case, the right side of his base, although it’s the right who’ll decide Iowa.) Cruz’s brand as a full-spectrum conservative is a form of accountability: If he’s elected and tacks towards the center, he can be held to account for why his principles don’t match his actions. Trump’s brand is a total lack of accountability. My fans won’t abandon me no matter what I do in office, he says, and he’s testing that theory by talking up his relationships with Democratic villains in crunch time before a conservative electorate goes to vote. Not even a centrist like Kasich would tout his relationships with Pelosi and Schumer, not even in order to draw a contrast with Cruz’s obstructionism. Trump does it because he thinks his cult of personality will forgive him anything. And they will — but are there enough of them to beat Cruz in Iowa? If there are, how might a president who’s convinced he’s unaccountable to anyone behave in office?
Two: I don’t understand how Trump fans reconcile the fact that this guy spent six months running as a strong man, who’d impose his will on Washington through a combination of charisma, an electoral mandate, and raw executive power, but has spent most of the last month touting his willingness and ability to make deals with every Democrat in Washington, as if Pelosi and Schumer will accede to his demands out of sheer admiration for his testicular fortitude. Neither one of them’s going to care if Trump wins big in the fall; their base is the left, not centrist Democrats, and the left despises Trump. In particular, Schumer will be eager to show the left as the Democrats’ new leader in the Senate that he’ll drive a hard bargain for their agenda, especially knowing how eager Trump will be to prove he can broker deals. Meanwhile, if Trump turns into the “radical centrist” everyone expects as president, he’ll gradually lose the support of House conservatives, creating a new headache for Paul Ryan in building a coalition that can get to 218. Point being, Trump will have to work much harder than he expects to make enough people happy in Congress to move legislation. And it’ll take plenty of palm-greasing. One of the reasons earmarks were such a curse word for grassroots conservatives even though they were a tiny part of the federal budget is what they symbolized about Washington culture — namely, federal money being doled out to special interests in the name of brokering legislative compromises that frequently left no one happy. The logic of Trump’s “I’ll make deals!” pitch is that the earmark mentality would be back in force. It’s nice that he’s finally starting to level with his fans that he won’t be the Green Lantern as president (unless he gets frustrated by gridlock and decides to go Full Metal Obama with executive power), but I hope they know what that means.
Three: It’s going to be endlessly enjoyable watching Trump’s fan base in conservative media, especially among radio talkers, turn rhetorical somersaults to defend his “comity and compromise” approach to Congress after spending the last three years applauding Ted Cruz for extending a middle finger to everyone there, starting with his own majority leader. If Trump can convince the dean of conservative talk radio to claim that he’s opposed to big government when nothing of the sort is true, it’ll be a snap to convince him that the only way to achieve lasting conservative victories is by bringing Nancy Pelosi and Chuck Schumer on board in new legislative packages. If Trump ends up beating Cruz on Monday night and Cruz fades from the race, I think Cruz will come to realize that his strategy was sound, his organization was sound, but his campaign was based on a fundamentally flawed premise, which is that conservative populists were more deeply committed to conservatism than they were to populism, even when “populism” is presented as “bargaining with Wall Street Democrats.” Sorry, Ted. Exit quotation from a Twitter pal: “Old and busted: BUT HE FIGHTS. New Hotness: BUT HE REACHES ACROSS THE AISLE.”