On Wednesday, President Trump entered into federal debt-ceiling negotiations with congressional leaders from both parties. In a move that surprised many, he ended up bucking the recommendations of Republicans (including his own Treasury Secretary) and accepting an offer from Democratic minority leaders, Nancy Pelosi and Chuck Schumer, to raise the debt ceiling for a mere three months. The deal was in exchange for a quick $8 billion for Hurricane Harvey relief (which would have assuredly received bipartisan support anyway).
The length of the extension was an easily-identified political ploy by Democrats, who hoped to set up a fiscal cliff scenario in December, which would give them leverage going into end-of-the-year budget talks. Conversely, Paul Ryan and Mitch McConnell wanted to extend the measure well into 2018 (or perhaps beyond) to better focus on tax reform and other pressing initiatives before Christmas.
Trump looked at the dueling proposals, and chose to give Pelosi and Schumer exactly what their party wanted (but likely never dreamed it would get). He tossed congressional Republicans overboard, and in doing so increased the likelihood of a government shutdown, for which the GOP would assuredly be blamed.
Yes, the great negotiator folded like a cheap suit for his Democratic opponents, and though it caught a number of people off guard, it really shouldn’t have.
Trump has never had much interest in the Republican platform, or even the party itself, other than what it could do for him. A lifelong Democrat and longtime Democratic donor, he didn’t change his party affiliation until he started to think seriously about running for president. As a candidate, he ran on universal healthcare, thumbed his nose at entitlement reform, opposed free trade, and parroted Code Pink talking points and far-left conspiracy theories on 9/11 and the Iraq War.
When you think about it, Trump could have just as easily run in the Democratic primary. But with Fox News having long lent him a soapbox from which to weigh in on current events (thus granting him political relevance), he already had the makings of a base on the Right — a base that has now spent over two years maligning conservative Trump critics as “RINOs” (Republicans in Name Only) and “liberals.”
No, the application of such labels doesn’t make any sense in this context, but few things do these days.
Some conservative pundits are suggesting that Trump’s decision to needlessly throw GOP leaders under the bus on the debt ceiling marks our president’s return to his Democratic roots. While that’s certainly possible, the explanation could be much more simple. Trump may have just decided that his party has expended its usefulness — especially in terms of advancing our president’s primary interest: himself.
After all, if we’ve come to know anything about President Trump, it’s that he values his ego above all else. It has compelled him to say and do some pretty astounding things. And if you keep that in mind when evaluating Wednesday’s action, it makes perfect sense.
From Trump’s perspective, the GOP leadership has continually embarrassed him. Party leaders have publicly spoken out against him (both during the campaign and as president), the Republican congress failed to pass healthcare reform legislation (which Trump promised), many refuse to defend or rationalize his self-inflicted wounds, and their approval ratings are even more abysmal than his. Everyone expects an opposition party to make a president’s life difficult, but for someone like Trump, who demands loyalty from those he perceives to be on his team, the displays of internal defiance must be unbearable.
When leaders are guided by ego above principles, no one should be surprised when their tenure turns into a game of waging personal vendettas and choosing the path of least resistance. In this case, Trump’s aim may have been to show Ryan and McConnell how easily he can make them irrelevant. That’s certainly how Fox Business host, Lou Dobbs, sees it.
On his show Wednesday, Dobbs referred to the debacle as the “death of a RINO.” Only in his view, the “RINO” wasn’t the Republican who had just given away the store to the Democrats. The RINO was — you guessed it — Paul Ryan.
Dobbs, who is one of Trump’s most devoted media-advocates, delighted in the Pelosi/Schumer victory, declaring that “The president not only took RINO Ryan to the woodshed, but eliminated any need for any Republican to ever pretend again that Ryan is a real Republican in any way, or that any RINO has a political future after Mr. Trump simply booted the hapless fool of a speaker out of the way of those trying to get the nation’s business done.”
Yes, those words were actually spoken by a grown adult — a paid political pundit and a self-described conservative, no less. Dobbs’ sentiment was quickly parroted by other notable voices in the pro-Trump media, and now appears to be the prevailing talking-point of the Trump faithful on this matter.
In case you’re having trouble following the logic, let’s examine it:
The guy who fairly recently joined the GOP out of convenience, ran for president on liberal policies and rhetoric, and just gave a huge Christmas present to Nancy Pelosi, Chuck Schumer, and the Democratic party (for no substantive reason), is the “real” Republican.
Conversely, the lifelong Republican activist, who has been the nation’s leading Obamacare opponent, and leading proponent for conservative budgetary and entitlement reform, is the “fake” Republican.
And somehow, this all makes perfect sense to Trump loyalists, who claim to despise Schumer and Pelosi (and liberalism in general)…all while swearing that they haven’t been taken in by a cult of personality.