The thought of President Donald Trump hand-in-hand with Nancy Pelosi and Chuck Schumer, smiling over how great the debt deal is going to be, shocks establishment Republicans and people inside the Beltway who’ve lived with the ideal of party loyalty all their lives. The big news for them isn’t the deal itself, but Trump’s break with his own allies on the Hill. Does he still not know how things are done?
But it should have been clear from early in the campaign that a victory for Trump would not spell triumph for the Republicans. The full impact of his ascent meant a scrambling of party machinery. The reality is that party loyalty on the conservative side doesn’t much count anymore. That’s what the primaries proved.
I remember a young Republican operative telling me in anguished tones before the convention, “But he’s not a real conservative!” She didn’t realize the terms had changed. Trump represents himself — not a party and not an ideology. Neither his supporters nor his opponents can measure him against traditional yardsticks. His actions stand on their own.
Dallying with the Democrats won’t dismay his voters one bit. The people I’ve talked to over the months feel a lot more disgust with Paul Ryan and Mitch McConnell than with the minority leaders. To the Trump fan, liberal Democrats do what they do with sure predictability, and they stand together with impressive fealty.
Republican senators and House members, on the other hand, are trimmers and prevaricators, or at least enough of them to scuttle long-awaited legislation. Why should the President show them any deference when they can’t even line up their own ranks?
Especially, let’s add, after the outrage Republican leaders launched at Trump over his remarks on the violence in Charlottesville, Virginia. Did we ever hear a Democrat scold President Barack Obama so sternly? Trump supporters heard in their grumblings more fear than sincerity, as if each Republican critic rushed to show his anti-racism only to save himself from the scorn that followed Trump’s “both sides” statements. Trump the negotiator drew the obvious conclusion: “I owe them nothing.”
Trump voters think the same thing. The Republican Party has disappointed them so many times in the 21st century that they were willing last year to abandon party wisdom and go with a sometimes liberal, repeatedly married Manhattan celebrity so long as he sounded as if he would hold the line if he got into office. The boasting and brashness, the cutting slurs (“nasty woman”), the raw ego — well, they only signaled that Trump wouldn’t compromise and blink once the horse-trading of Washington politics started.
This agreement with the enemy follows the pattern. It’s not a case of bipartisanship. That term applies to the old ways. We now have three forces in play, a “tripartisanship”: Democrats, Republicans and Trump. The extraordinary act of the President, not a legislator, crossing the aisle fits the phenomenon perfectly. He’s the pragmatist that George W. Bush claimed to be, the Emersonian hero who lives by the principle, “A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds.”
The agreement may look like a new partnership, especially after Pelosi’s phone call with the President on Thursday morning reportedly led him to assure Dreamers they are safe for another six months. But that’s just one day’s gesture.
Nobody can accuse him of betraying the right and collaborating with the left because, we may be sure, in the next month a new skirmish will break out, and Trump will revile Pelosi and Schumer with just as much feeling as he did when he united with them Wednesday.