Right-wing populism has been building to this moment for years, and not just the two-plus years since Trump entered politics. As sticking it to the GOP establishment gradually became the supreme goal of the grassroots right, the reasons for wanting to stick it to them — ostensibly because they weren’t conservative enough — began to drain away, leaving spite as the residue. Anything that makes Paul Ryan cry is necessarily a good thing, especially if it was masterminded by the populist-in-chief.
In fact, according to the Daily Beast, spite was a chief motive yesterday for Trump himself:
For all his famed negotiating skills, Trump emerged from the meeting having handed Democrats a legislative triumph. But according to sources close to Trump, the president was more than willing to cut the deal because he has grown tired, if not resentful, of Republican leaders on Capitol Hill.
Multiple West Wing sources told The Daily Beast how the president was looking to strike a quick and easy deal—and that his speed reaching this specific arrangement was in part ensured by his resentment towards Republican leaders, who Trump views as hostile, insufficiently loyal, and impotent. It was well-known within the White House that President Trump, going into the meeting, was “not looking to do [Ryan and McConnell] any favors,” as one White House official put it.
And so we arrive at the idiocy below, in which Trump caving to Chuck Schumer and Nancy Pelosi becomes a glorious victory largely because Ryan and Mitch McConnell were horrified by it. Sure, Trump sided with the liberals, but he pwn3d the RINOs. You would think House conservatives would be happy about that, per Dobbs’s logic, yet strangely they’re not:
“Dealmaking to what end?” asked Rep. Mark Sanford (R-S.C.), the rare Freedom Caucuser who routinely criticizes Trump. “Does it advance or pull away from the bias that you believe in terms of what direction the government ought to go? I think all of us as taxpayers need to be very skeptical of deals for the sake of deals.”…
There is no sign that Trump’s Wednesday concession marks a broader legislative pivot. But the legislative reality for the GOP’s hard right is brutal: Every Democratic entreaty the president accepts erodes the conservative bloc’s power, which is rooted in its ability to push Republican-only initiatives — like this year’s health-care effort and the coming tax overhaul effort — further to the right…
“It’s unsettling,” said Rep. Mark Walker (R-N.C.), the chairman of the conservative Republican Study Committee. “I know it is for us as a conference; I can only imagine what it is for leadership.”
House conservatives only have leverage in a debt-ceiling fight if Trump is willing to stand with them. The ominous takeaway from yesterday’s “deal” was that this might be the start of deeper cooperation between the White House and Democrats. That would make sense from Trump’s perspective, as some of his nationalist goals, like massive infrastructure spending, should be more appealing to liberals than to conservatives. If he can get Schumer and Pelosi to deal with him, he can probably muscle enough votes among the GOP on the Hill to push key pieces of his agenda through. The price, however, would be conservatives losing what little power they have in the House. If Ryan doesn’t need to pass bills with party-line votes anymore then no one will care what the House Freedom Caucus thinks about spending or anything else. What good will it do Mark Meadows to have another fight in December if Trump agrees to a “deal” with Democrats that trades raising the debt ceiling for infrastructure spending or a DREAM bill with some token border-security concessions thrown in? The signal sent by yesterday’s presidential surrender, taking the debt ceiling off the table and endorsing the Schumer/Pelosi timetable for bringing it back, is that the White House can govern without conservatives on many matters if need be.
And ironically, it’s the blind loyalty of Trump’s Dobbs-ish base that makes that possible. Josh Barro overstates the dynamic here, but he has a point:
Trump may have hit on an insight: If Republican voters will like him no matter what, he can become popular by doing whatever Democrats want.
— Josh Barro (@jbarro) September 7, 2017
Trump will never be truly popular with Democrats; they’ve invested too much emotionally in hating him. But he can certainly improve his job approval ratings *if* his base continues to follow him wherever he might lead, up to and including some marquee compromises with Schumer and Pelosi. He’ll lose a few Republicans in the process but probably hang on to most, and meanwhile Democratic opinion of him will soften. More importantly, he’ll receive tongue baths from a media that despises him right now but will be excited to see him tack left. There’ll be breathless strange-new-respect coverage of “America’s first independent president,” how Trump is scrambling politics and “getting things done,” yadda yadda. The man craves praise. Isolating conservatives and engineering some “deals” will get him that from people whose opinions he values. (And, not insignificantly, it may also deliver for a Republican electorate that’s not nearly as dogmatically conservative as its congressional leadership.) I hope for his sake, though, that Schumer and Pelosi really are ready to play ball with him: Contra what Dobbs says here about Trump clearing the way for tax reform, yesterday’s betrayal actually made tax reform harder by alienating congressional Republicans — unless, of course, Trump is preparing a tax deal with Democrats instead. If he isn’t, then a pissed-off Ryan and McConnell are his only hope. Not smart.
As for the coming debt-ceiling fight in December, even if Trump stands with conservatives initially in their demands, he’ll end up backing off for the sake of averting a technical default (I think). Schumer and Pelosi, after all, will have demands too. The best-case scenario is that the two sides compromise, with the Freedom Caucus getting some minor cuts in exchange for some Democratic monstrosity or another, possibly one that coincides with Trump’s own agenda. The likely scenario is that the two sides dig in on their demands for a few weeks beforehand and then Schumer and Pelosi begin pushing a clean debt-ceiling hike as the only responsible solution to the crisis, with Trump under intense pressure as the deadline approaches to agree. There’s really no scenario in which conservatives score some major fiscal win, for the simple reason that most of the public simply will not support a technical default by the U.S. Treasury in the name of shrinking government and Schumer and Pelosi know it. Republicans will be blamed if Treasury hits the ceiling, particularly since they control the entire government right now. In the end, they’ll blink, and if they’re destined to blink after we’ve defaulted, they might as well blink beforehand. Like I said yesterday, I don’t know why we continue with this brinksmanship that never has and never will produced a truly significant big-picture fiscal achievement. But it seems we’ll need another reminder.
— Lou Dobbs (@LouDobbs) September 6, 2017