We’re all Trumpologists now. Like the Kremlinologists of the Cold War, monitoring the line-ups at missile parades to see who was in or out of the Politburo, we track the president’s Twitter twitches and off-the-cuff quips, then guess which way he’s going to go next.
The Soviets were rational actors, and so was Donald Trump when he responded to the midterms. He called the split Congress a ‘beautiful, bipartisan-type situation’ — beautiful because the situation places Trump at the fulcrum of power, bi-partisan because no legislature will pass without both sides on board.
Trump is the president who spent his first few days in the White House annulling Barack Obama’s executive orders. He knows that his Democratic successor will get out the presidential Sharpie and do the same to any Trump legacies that aren’t secured in Congress. He also knows that if they come, you have to build it, or something vaguely like it. The American public invested in Trump in 2016, and in a Republican Senate last week. Factor out the diversions and fictions, and his response to the midterms was a pitch for posterity:
‘Now we have a much easier path, because the Democrats will come to us with a plan for infrastructure, a plan for health care, a plan for whatever they’re looking at, and we’ll negotiate.’
Trump is a party to himself, but before he became emperor, he was a Democrat from New York. Before Trump the Republican candidate talked about tariffs and closing the borders, Trump the Democratic donor prospered by cutting deals with the most powerful pro-tariff and anti-immigration force in Democratic politics, the labor unions. Now is the time for our orange-haired Maximum Leader to get back to his roots.
The art of the deal is the art of the possible. In 2017, with a Republican-controlled Congress, it made sense for Trump to try to replace Obamacare by working with Paul Ryan. For the same reason, it makes sense for Trump now to work with ‘Chuck and Nancy’. The legislative impetus had petered out before the midterms, anyway.
Chuck and Nancy have already auditioned for their role, and so has Donny. In December 2017, Schumer and Pelosi booked a meeting at the White House, but canceled it at the last minute. Then, having made the gesture to their base, they cozied up on a sofa with Mitch McConnell while Trump looked on like a man contemplating the three wise monkeys.
McConnell hears no evil, because he runs the Senate. Schumer sees none, because he is a New York Democrat like the president. And Pelosi manages, eventually, to speak none for a few hours. It’s not a beautiful picture, but it’s a bipartisan-type situation that could benefit everyone.
Bill Clinton and Newt Gingrich cordially detested each other too. But they managed to work together, advance both of their agendas, and do the country a favor as they did so. Something similar is within reach now. The country needs it more than ever, because the ugly bipartisan-type situation that has prevailed since the impeachment of Bill Clinton is not just obnoxious, but also unproductive.
Trump was elected as a game-changer. The president who financed his own campaign is less beholden and more belligerent towards vested party interests than any president in living memory. So far, he has talked a good legislative program, but failed to deliver. He has managed to knock down the shanty-town of Obama’s executive orders, only for Congress to delay the construction permit on his shiny new tower. The city on the hill honors only those who build big, and build to last.
Trump also said last week that if the Democrats lead with the Mueller enquiry and the theatricals of an impeachment bid that won’t get past the Senate, then he’d get ‘warlike’. Moderate Democrats will recognize from last week’s results that Trump’s strategy of playing to the extreme edge of the Republican base remains a serious weapon for 2020.
It’s in Trump’s interest for 2020 to split the moderate Democratic leadership from the new cohort of democratic socialists. If he can neutralize Chuck and Nancy as collaborators, that increases the likelihood of the Democrats fielding a left-wing candidate in 2020, which plays into Trump’s strategy of extremes.
It’s in Chuck and Nancy’s interest to get legislative achievements, especially on healthcare and immigration. Otherwise, they will remain tainted by the shoddy design and failed execution of Obamacare, and the electoral poison of open-borders rhetoric. They’ll also be vulnerable to attacks from the Democratic left, whose criticisms are more of a threat to them that those of Trump and the Republicans.
So a deal is in everyone’s interest, and even the American public’s interest. If Trump can obtain legislation on healthcare, infrastructure and immigration, he’ll shore up the Republicans’ centrist appeal for 2020. That’ll leave him free to do the other thing that he does best, like baiting his base. It’ll also secure his legacy as the most successful Democratic president in decades.
Dominic Green is Life & Arts Editor of Spectator USA.