Donald J. Trump, author of The Art of the Deal and President of the United States has cut a deal with Democratic leaders and Republicans are now furiously surprised. How could the expert deal-maker give into the Democratic party's demands and move the debt ceiling fight to a less favorable time for Republicans?
The answer is quite simple. Donald Trump doesn't care if he betrays Republicans. He doesn't care about any of it. As Jonathan Chait laid out back in May, Trump is fundamentally detached from political ideology altogether. Despite his role, Trump resembles a low-information voter far more than a political party leader. Hence his uselessness when discussing healthcare or any other policy matter. Trump didn't and still doesn't know anything about healthcare. He (like most Republican voters) just assumed that the Republican Congress would make something better than Obamacare. When it didn't happen, he did what he does best; he whined about it on Twitter. When someone asks Trump if he's a Globalist or Nationalist, the president simply says he's both. Does this mean Trump has an incredibly brilliant synthesis of political thought combining a scholar's understanding of both globalizing trends and national interests? No, it just means he doesn't really understand what those words even mean.
So when it comes to his debt-ceiling deal with Schumer and Pelosi there are two ways to think about it. The event is a major change (a pivot, you might say), or it's a simple predictable continuation of Trump. Is Trump finally starting to take seriously the "economic nationalism" that his former chief strategist Steve Bannon touted? Can we expect a deal with Democrats on a 1 trillion dollar infrastructure bill and tax hikes on the rich? Or is this business like usual?
I think it's obviously the latter. The state of American politics is exactly where it was yesterday. We have a president who is incredibly incoherent and undisciplined with a habit of favoring big populist moves that usually don't materialize. For Republicans, that's a disaster. Policy won't be conservative unless it's an easy deregulation executive order that can be put in front of Trump so he can smile at the camera and sign it while looking presidential.
If anything, there's a tiny chance of further catastrophe for conservative ideologues with such a non-ideological president. Senator Bernie Sanders is pushing a single-payer healthcare bill. It is completely believable that Trump could slip up the script at a press conference and say that Medicare-for-all sounds pretty good followed by complete chaos among Republican leaders. All it would take is for Schumer to sneak in a phone call right before said press conference to explain how great the healthcare bill is; China's leader Xi Jinping was able to do as much by educating Trump on North Korea in 10 minutes. Which is why I believe Paul Ryan is currently using flashcards to train Trump into associating the term "single-payer" with the adjectives "loser", "small", and "crooked". That's pure speculation on my part, but does it sound that implausible with a president this undisciplined?
But I digress. Even if President Trump warms up to more deals with the Democratic party (which he might, since he thinks the ratings have been "yuge"), there's only so much Schumer and Pelosi can do with a president so toxic among their base. Senate Minority Leader Schumer got his house picketed back in January for hearing the president out, no one can seriously believe that Democrats are less angry about Trump after the last couple of months. As was the case during the campaign season, the mythical pivot is never going to happen. Trump will somehow render himself even more unpopular with liberals soon enough since that's practically the only steady rule this administration has.
At the end of the day, making liberals hate you is not a policy strategy and that's more clear than ever to conservatives since being betrayed by Trump on this deal. The New York Times described this event as a "Nightmare Come True" for conservative leaders. The funny thing is, you can't have a nightmare without being asleep. Like every shocking statement and act by Donald Trump, the latest outrage is rather predictable given how he acts everyday. Any Republican awake during the last two years saw this betrayal coming a mile away. Trump is not a master deal-maker for his party, he just plays one on TV.
Photo credit: The White House