ShareThis Page

Desperate for a win, Trump shafts GOP

| Saturday, Sept. 16, 2017, 9:00 p.m.
Speaker of the House Paul Ryan speaks during a press conference at the U.S. Capitol. Ryan and fellow Republicans were caught off guard by President Donald Trump's decision to make a deal with congressional Democrats to raise the debt ceiling. (Photo by Aaron P. Bernstein | Getty Images)
Getty Images
Speaker of the House Paul Ryan speaks during a press conference at the U.S. Capitol. Ryan and fellow Republicans were caught off guard by President Donald Trump's decision to make a deal with congressional Democrats to raise the debt ceiling. (Photo by Aaron P. Bernstein | Getty Images)

The news that President Trump abandoned Republicans to strike a deal with congressional Democrats on a three-month extension of the debt limit yielded a predictable response from his predictable cheerleaders: It was brilliant and typically shrewd for the author of “The Art of the Deal” to take the very first offer the Democrats made and ask for nothing in return.

Less obsequious observers on the right claimed that this was the long-prophesied moment. The seventh seal had been broken. Donald Trump was “pivoting” at last.

In the lexicon of Trumpism and anti-Trumpism, “pivot” has many meanings. But in this context, pivot means to reach across party lines and work with Democrats, giving the shaft to his own party — or at least to the conservatives in the GOP.

Such a move has been feared by many conservatives from the earliest days of Trump's candidacy. The former New York Democrat holds no deep love for ideological conservatism, and many of his favorite issues — protectionism, infrastructure, etc. — are more naturally part of the Democrat portfolio.

But those fears didn't pan out at first. The president and congressional Republicans tried to mimic the Democrats in the wake of Barack Obama's victory in 2008 and run the table, particularly on ObamaCare “repeal and replace,” on a partisan basis. Unfortunately, the GOP couldn't get it done. This infuriated many conservatives, Republicans and Trump himself — and to some extent rightly so.

For years, Republicans said that if they could win both Congress and the White House, there would be nothing they couldn't do. They failed for several reasons.

The Republican majority in the Senate is much narrower than the Democrat majority was when Obama was elected. Many GOP leaders never thought Trump would win, and so they hadn't prepared for victory. Also, the Republican Party is divided along a host of fault lines, and a large swath of the Republican caucus has no experience at actually governing.

This is why Trump's decision to throw Sen. Mitch McConnell and Speaker Paul Ryan under the bus was greeted with such glee by many Trump boosters. They place the blame for all of Trump's myriad blunders on the GOP “establishment.” They'd rather see Trump pivot and work with Democrats if it means Trump can declare victory about something — anything — and if it makes the establishment look bad.

The problem is there's another reason Congress has disappointed the president and his most ardent supporters: Trump doesn't know what he's doing.

Even under the best circumstances, major legislation cannot get out of Congress without robust presidential leadership. I wish it were otherwise, because Congress is the first branch of government and should take the lead. But in the modern era, you can't outsource the big stuff to Congress. Trump didn't know this and refuses to learn.

There are many reasons why the pivot theory won't pan out. Trump has made himself too radioactive with the Democrat rank-and-file. Most of his agenda is equally radioactive. But the main reason it will fail is that, contrary to wishful theories that Trump is playing “four-dimensional chess,” the president doesn't really know what he's doing.

Jonah Goldberg is an editor-at-large of National Review Online and a visiting fellow at the American Enterprise Institute.

TribLIVE commenting policy

You are solely responsible for your comments and by using TribLive.com you agree to our Terms of Service.

We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.

While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.

We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers

We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.

We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.

We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.

We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.