In parliamentary lingo, when representatives from various parties strike such a bargain, it’s called forming a government. The forging of such coalitions is hardly foreign to our presidential system. The difference is that such bargaining used to take place within and across our two major parties — in concert as well as in tension with the executive branch of government. Before they went extinct, there were liberal northeastern Republicans and conservative southern Democrats; they would hold unruly and fractious national conventions in search of consensus presidential candidates. They would routinely create bipartisan legislative majorities on everything from civil rights to tax cuts to welfare reform.
Those days appear to be over. The variegated beast known as the Republican Party has formed a government and, as in a parliamentary system, it’s the leaders of the winning party who have determined which priorities the government will pursue, and in what order. And because President Trump has thus far obediently behaved like a member of a parliamentary coalition, rather than an actor with his own agency and source of legitimacy, the leaders of the legislature report a “high level of satisfaction” with his administration. His tweeting, his executive-order photo-ops, his pissant job-rescue operations in Indiana and Michigan: They are but sound and fury next to the real, substantive action on Capitol Hill.
This could all blow up in their faces, of course. But if it does, it won’t be due to Trump’s unpopularity. It will be due to unbridgeable divisions within the Republican Party coalition.