Normally I’d say the usual “it’s just one poll!” caveat applies, but it’s not just one poll. Rasmussen, which has consistently had some of the strongest numbers for Trump, has him at 45/54 today. He was at 50/50 as recently as last Tuesday and has been sliding ever since as the health-care bill disintegrated. Now here’s Gallup with Trump at 36 percent, down five points since Friday’s debacle. The RCP average, which incorporates Gallup and Rasmussen, also has him at an all-time low right now. I saw somewhere this weekend in one of the dozens of stories about what happened behind the scenes in the White House as the health-care bill tanked that Trump himself seemed relatively unconcerned by the failure, viewing it as a minor blip that would free him up to tackle tax reform and infrastructure. Reportedly it fell to Steve Bannon to explain to him that, no, this is a big deal and may deeply damage his ability to get either of those initiatives done. You’re seeing in these numbers why Bannon was so worried.
The new buzzword over the weekend, on both sides of the aisle, was “bipartisanship” on health-care reform but I don’t think either party is sincere about it. For the White House, talking about making deals with Democrats is a way to threaten the Freedom Caucus, at whom Trump is annoyed for blocking him on the AHCA. Reince Priebus’s message yesterday on the Sunday shows was essentially a nudge to House conservatives that if they don’t start playing ball on Trump’s initiatives, Trump will cut them out of legislation going forward and push more centrist bills that can attract Democratic votes instead. If you thought Mark Meadows hated the AHCA, wait ’til he gets a look at the Trump/Schumer single-payer bill of 2018! Just one question: If you’re a centrist Democrat (or Freedom Caucus member, for that matter) who was leery of working with Trump when he was at 43 percent approval, how leery are you of working with him when he’s at 36 percent and the progressive base is howling at you to obstruct, obstruct, obstruct? Axios reported yesterday that the White House is hopeful it can convince — wait for it — the Congressional Black Caucus to break with Pelosi and start voting with Trump on key bills in exchange for who knows what. Good luck with that. No Democrat is going to hand a Republican president a big rehabilitating victory when they’ve got him on the ropes after the health-care fiasco.
For Democrats, meanwhile, yesterday’s “bipartisanship” chatter was doubtless a way to look reasonable after Trump used his Oval Office photo op on Friday to blame them for not just the failure of the health-care bill but the coming implosion (or is it explosion?) of ObamaCare. We’re willing to work with you on health care, Schumer insisted on one of the Sunday shows; all you need to do is stop demanding that ObamaCare be repealed, accept that it’s here to stay, and huddle with us on how to preserve it. That’s pure anathema to conservative Republicans and represents an impossible ask of Trump, who campaigned for a year and a half on the total uprooting of Obama’s pet project. But it sounds reasonable, which is all Democrats need to do right now as they follow their obstruction blueprint. And if Trump’s worst fears prove true and we end up in an ObamaCare death spiral, Schumer can point back to this as proof that he’s been offering all along to help the White House solve some of the law’s problems before it collapsed:
“We Democrats, provided our Republican colleagues drop replace and stop undermining the ACA, are willing to work with our Republican friends — as long as they say ‘no more repeal,'” Schumer said, referring to the Affordable Care Act.
“We have ideas, they have ideas to try to improve ObamaCare. We never said it was perfect, we always said we’d work with them to improve it, we just said repeal was off the table.”…
“For the president to say that he’ll destroy it or undermine it, that’s not presidential,” Schumer said “That’s petulance … and it’s not going to work.”
If Trump is serious about sidelining the Freedom Caucus and governing from the center with Democratic help, he needs some victories to rebuild his political capital. But in order to achieve some victories and rebuild his political capital, he may need to govern from the center with Democratic help. Catch-22. Which has some wondering: Did he make a mistake by beginning his presidency with right-wing policy initiatives like the immigration travel ban and ObamaCare repeal? He threw conservatives a bone by nominating Neil Gorsuch; he could have followed that up with a centrist play by pushing infrastructure or some other jobs program to start. The left would have insisted on obstruction anyway, but Trump had an opportunity early to distinguish his brand as centrist and nationalist more so than conservative, which would have been in keeping with his program on the campaign trail and would have given Schumer and Pelosi something to think about. At a minimum, he could have held off on mocking Schumer or tweeting wiretapping accusations about the previous Democratic president without hard proof in hand.
Oddly, Trump seems to be repeating a mistake Obama made in 2009, attempting to govern exclusively from his party’s side of the aisle instead of building bipartisan consensus on big-ticket programs. With Obama, though, you can understand the temptation: He got elected as a liberal and he had a filibuster-proof majority in the Senate. Trump, by contrast, got elected as a “radical centrist” with a narrow majority in the Senate, yet he’s focused on nothing but right-wing red meat so far. I’m not complaining as a conservative, but if I were a Trump strategist I’d be complaining a lot. If you won as a populist big-government Republican who’s focused on bringing back jobs to middle America, why the hell are you wasting time on Paul Ryan’s health-care bill? That’s how you get to 36 percent.
Exit question: If tax reform stalls too because Trump and Ryan can’t cobble together 218 Republican votes, what happens to his approval rating then? How will he get an infrastructure bill through afterward with Democrats smelling blood in the water from a politically wounded president and seeing big gains possible in 2018?
— Fox News (@FoxNews) March 26, 2017
— ABC News Politics (@ABCPolitics) March 26, 2017