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The Presidential-Congressional partisan line is beginning to blur.
The presidency of Donald Trump so far has been, to say the least, unpredictable. Within essentially every facet of his administration there have been major surprises. From the firing of pretty much everyone you’ve ever heard of to his frenetic twitter feed sharply influencing the Congressional agenda, the president’s methods and plans for the future are typically hard to pin down ahead of time. Perhaps Trump’s most surprising move yet is his recent deal with top Democrats Nancy Pelosi and Chuck Schumer regarding DACA and DREAMers – notably without input from top GOP members.
This move across the aisle from the president has gravely concerned a large swath of the Republican Party and has drawn criticism from some unusual voices in a variety of conservative circles. In typical Trump fashion, the announcement of the deal, and general messaging surrounding it, created major confusion with very little clarity from the White House regarding what exactly has been agreed to. In the days since this announcement, it has become evident that the originally sheepish mainstream GOP is beginning to fall in line behind the president’s negotiation strategy, but no one seems to be buying that the Republicans are completely on board with his agenda. With this most recent surprise in the Trump Administration, it’s important to evaluate who this type of unorthodoxy is helping and hurting.
It’s unclear what the president’s intentions are regarding DACA as a whole, but it doesn’t seem so unclear what message he was sending to the main brass of the right with his Democratic courtship. Paul Ryan and Mitch McConnell certainly have been put on notice by Trump with his continuous undercutting of their authority; this most recent deal being the most obvious and cutting blow so far. By striking a deal with Pelosi and Schumer, Donald Trump essentially told his own party that he’s so unimpressed with their ability to govern and get his agenda passed that he’d rather play ball with the perceived-as loathsome Democrats. It is a genuine shock to anyone aware of the 2017 political climate that DJT – or a Republican president with a majority in both houses at all, for that matter – would be willing to even speak with Nancy Pelosi and Chuck Schumer. Somehow, even with retread leadership, major infighting, and basically no political leverage whatsoever, the Democrats appear far less impotent than their peers across the aisle.
“It’s unclear what the president’s intentions are regarding DACA as a whole, but it doesn’t seem so unclear what message he was sending to the main brass of the right with his Democratic courtship.”
For McConnell and Ryan, this past year has shown the public that the familiar faces of the GOP are not capable of producing results on major policy issues. While culpable, however, this Republican failure is not all on the heads of the Senate and the House. The president himself has made their already difficult jobs nearly impossible with his constantly shifting twitter requests and public condemnations of his own party leaders. Unfortunately for the public perceptions of Ryan and McConnell, an electorate that was promised healthcare changes for seven years is likely too impatient to appreciate this nuance – most voters on the right don’t care why healthcare didn’t get done, they just care that it didn’t get done. When you have seven years to finish your homework, no one cares why you forgot to turn it in.
Unless the coming months provide a change in the president’s tone towards his cohorts in Congress, it will be difficult for Congressional Republicans to advance any unified agenda. Political capital is hard to amass, and it’s easy to lose. The voice and will of the POTUS is more powerful than almost any other thing in the government, and without Trump in lockstep with his party leaders the GOP may not be able to rally their base or their party members together for any cause. The GOP can’t even agree that they all want to keep their seats next year with Trump condoning primaries against sitting conservative senators. This being the case, how will Ryan and McConnell pass tax reform, healthcare, or anything of substance if they can’t even agree on who should have a seat at the table?
I should note that Donald Trump is not completely unscathed by this deal with Democrats either. Breitbart and Ann Coulter, among other prominent conservative voices, have shifted their tone completely against the president. With a recently ousted and discontented Steve Bannon on the loose with all the White House secrets and an ax to grind, Breitbart may swivel from being essentially state run media to Trump’s number one public enemy in the media. Trump may be capable of convincing his base that CNN is fake, but he’ll have a far harder time convincing them Breitbart is fake too. With top Republicans on edge about the direction of the White House, alt-right and Tea Party delegates turning their back on the POTUS, and a rabid Democratic base dying for impeachment, DJT may end up flying too close to the sun with his cavalier politicking.
On the other side of things, it’s hard to imagine the Democrats not celebrating tremendously. In the eyes of the left, making a deal with the president in which he essentially gives up a major immigration policy for nothing could not be a bigger victory. Pelosi and Schumer have gained a rare insight into the negotiation tactics and values of Trump and the president was reportedly elated with the positive media attention the partnership got. With this deal – so far – going “well” for both the Democrats and Trump, it’s not impossible to believe there could be more bizarre deals in the future between the two. On top of this makeshift and probably brief alliance, Pelosi and Schumer may be able to show up to the midterms touting the DREAM Act as the most progressive immigration policy change since the 1980s, despite having minorities in Congress and losing the White House. In a year of politics in which it seems there have been no winners, perhaps the left can mark a victory, in pencil, for the first time in a long time.