I was watching Smerconish this morning on CNN and one of the final segments they ran was a discussion of whether or not the President was getting ready to bail out on the GOP. Whether that means officially leaving the party and changing his registration (a la’ Scarborough) or simply declaring war on Mitch McConnell, Paul Ryan and Kevin McCarthy was never really specified, but you can almost feel the palpable sense of excitement among liberals at the prospect. Much of the current discussion seems to have cropped up after an opinion piece from Michael Warren at the Weekly Standard began making the rounds, and Warren was on the show this morning to discuss it.
President Donald Trump is inching closer to abandoning the Republican party, even as the GOP is in the middle of an effort to remake itself in Trump’s image.
The latest sign is the president’s tiff with Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell. As my colleague Andrew Egger noted, on Monday McConnell said, during a speech in Kentucky, that Trump had “excessive expectations about how quickly things happen in the democratic process.” Those expectations, the Republican leader continued, made things more difficult for enacting the GOP’s legislative agenda, primarily repealing Obamacare.
“Part of the reason I think people feel we’re underperforming is because of too many artificial deadlines unrelated to the complexity of legislating,” McConnell said.
The partial counterweight to this argument is found in the assertion that Trump doesn’t need to leave the party because many of the current GOP apparatchiks are already preparing long knives for the establishment leadership and adopting Trump’s language and positions. One big example being cited is the new party chair, Ronna Romney McDaniel, who has been going after Trump critics inside the party. (Jeff Flake being one of the bigger examples in that food fight.)
Is there something to this theory or is it just a way for the MSM to pass some time while Congress is in recess and sow some additional seeds of discontent around the White House lawn? Far more likely the latter as near as I can tell. Sure, one could make the argument that Trump could be considering severing ties because he was never really that wedded to the party to begin with. (And the earlier in his history you look, the more true that is.) But let’s not pretend that this is something new. Donald Trump was at war with the GOP establishment for the entirely of the 2016 campaign and was, if anything, even rougher on the leadership then than he is now. The fact that he’s bashing Mitch McConnell on Twitter and during interviews sounds more like Trump being Trump than any sign of a coming schism.
And the fact is that both Trump and the GOP leadership sort of have each other over the same barrel in terms of 2018 and 2020. There are red states where Trump’s support will still be of value to candidates (and some purple ones where they’ll wish he’d keep his distance). But even more to the point, Trump officially cutting ties with the Republican Party would be nothing short of disastrous in terms of trying to keep the White House in 2020. An organized primary battle against him (still purely theoretical at this point) would be one thing. But an “independent” Trump bid running against both a Democrat and some new GOP candidate? That’s just game over, kids.
In the end, I think Trump knows that beating up the party leadership is red meat for his base and I have zero doubt that Mitch McConnell knows that as well. (Though I’d imagine he could think of better ways for it to play out.) Donald Trump seized control as the titular head of the party the moment he won the primary last year and cemented that position on election night. Individual members in Congress and in the commentariat will each make their own choices as to when and how they will oppose him on individual issues or his rhetoric, but for better or worse they’ve got him for at least the next two elections. And Trump gains nothing by leaving the GOP officially, while retaining the image he wants to project by kicking around the establishment from inside the tent.