President Donald Trump seems to be realising, belatedly, that writing Democrats off put him at the mercy of Republicans in Congress. If he can’t get nearly all Republicans to agree on something, he can’t have it.
Despite being an alleged dealmaking expert, he put himself in quite a weak negotiating position, which is sad!
So Trump is talking up his desire to deal with Democrats on healthcare and infrastructure, giving him an additional possible counterparty if Freedom Caucus Republicans won’t play ball.
But I don’t think Trump has realised how much he’d have to give up, policy-wise, to make Democrats willing to work with him. Democratic voters hate Trump. If Democrats are going to cut deals with him, they’re going to have to be confident they can go home and show their voters they got the best of the negotiation.
And he definitely hasn’t realised that being a jerk makes it harder to get both Republicans and Democrats to do what he wants.
It’s possible to imagine a different opening to Trump’s administration that would have put him in a much stronger negotiating position.
He could have started with infrastructure and tax reform instead of health care. He could have made good on his initial overtures to Democrats, offering them an infrastructure package they would have found tempting, even if it came packaged with tax cuts. He could have sprung this on Republicans at a time when they didn’t feel empowered to stand up to Trump.
But he didn’t do those things.
Now, Republicans in Congress are annoyed with the president, sniping at each other, and no longer so afraid of what can happen when Trump tweets. They have defied him once and survived — why not do it again? Democrats smell blood in the water, and are much more inclined to deny Trump assistance and enjoy his failures than to work constructively with him.
Trump didn’t just fail disastrously to make a deal on healthcare. He put himself in a position where his counterparties distrust and disrespect him even more than they used to, jeopardizing his ability to make deals in the future, too.
We’re hearing a lot of different things this week about what the White House will do next: They’re on to tax reform; they’re going to tax reform and infrastructure at the same time; healthcare reform actually isn’t dead, they’re still working on it; Democrats will deal on healthcare once they realise Obamacare is unsustainable.
At the same time, we’re hearing lots of recriminations: The Freedom Caucus saved Planned Parenthood; Democrats killed the bill through their obstructionism; you should all watch this very special episode of Judge Jeanine.
The recriminations are more telling than the spitballing. Trump would like to do all sorts of things, and he’d like Republicans and Democrats to help him. But both parties are less inclined to work with him than they were two months ago, and instead of kissing up and making nice, he’s lashing out.
Ross Douthat and Corey Robin have both written about a Jimmy Carter model for the Trump presidency: As under Carter, high hopes for a swamp-draining presidency give way to a breakdown in relations between Congress and a high-handed president of the same party who diverges in key ways from the party’s mainstream.
In this analogy, Trump is Carter, only angrier, dimmer, less popular, much more out of his depth, and lacking in moral authority.
It’s all a recipe for an administration that makes a lot of noise but generates very few policy accomplishments.
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