OMG, I still can’t stop laughing about what happened Wednesday. There, in the Oval Office, President Trump, the master negotiator, Mr. “Art of the Deal,” sided with Democrats over Republicans in the looming fight over the budget and the debt ceiling. Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.) and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) proposed a plan to fund the government and raise the debt ceiling for three months. And Trump accepted it. Seriously, I haven’t laughed this joyfully about politics since Nov. 8.
According to The Post’s report of the action in the Oval, House Speaker Paul D. Ryan (R-Wis.) and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) “pushed for an 18-month debt-limit hike, then floated doing a six-month extension.” The goal was to neutralize that political time bomb until after the 2018 midterms. Nope. When Schumer and Pelosi instead proposed three months, Trump sided with them. “We agreed to a three-month extension on debt ceiling, which they consider to be sacred — very important. Always we’ll agree on debt ceiling automatically because of the importance of it,” the president told reporters as he traveled to North Dakota on Air Force One.
The White House showdown — the specific characters involved, what went down and how it went down — had a ring of familiarity. So it was foretold during an interview I did with Michael Steele, former chairman of the Republican National Committee, on my podcast, “Cape Up,” in the days after Trump’s stunning election in November.
Steele was my very first guest when the podcast launched in August 2016. “The GOP needs Donald Trump’s nomination,” he said then. He added later: “The nomination forced the party to have an uncomfortable conversation with itself, and that by nominating him, that conversation would happen sooner rather than later.” With Trump’s victory, I thought that much-needed conversation about the character and direction of the GOP was dead. No, no, said Steele. What he told me in our November conversation has the benefit of being prophetic, given what went down at 1600 on Wednesday.
So, let me just say straight up that, in answer to your question, the Republican Party still has this fight to go through, and they still have this reckoning. Because what they’ve done is they’ve elected someone who was not of their caste. … He’s not a Republican in the sense that Paul Ryan is a Republican or Reince Priebus is a Republican. He is a guy who is a populist, and he was able to — as we saw with Bernie Sanders — shake up the system.
The difference is, his shake-up was more successful than Bernie’s. … The Republican Party has someone who’s not going to move the party further right. It’s iron-facts going to bring the party more to the center. I believe that Donald Trump, at the end of the day, is going to govern as a pragmatic populist. Here’s why: On big-ticket items, whether it’s infrastructure, whether it’s transportation, whether it’s health care, whether it’s a whole host of things, if he can’t get the deal done with Paul Ryan, he’s going to work with Nancy Pelosi. He’s going to work with Chuck Schumer.
And that’s the flexibility that he has, that a traditional Republican president would not have. It would be harder for him to do. And so, I just kind of look at this, and I get the feel, externally, that Donald Trump has the upper hand here in many respects. And the party is going to come more to him, which will, to the core of your question, really put stress and strain on those fissures that exist within the party. And there will be, I predict, some real moments where the party’s going to go in one direction and the president’s going to want to go in another. And that Republican label is not going to be strong enough to hold that relationship together.
Infrastructure and transportation (treated as the same thing at various points by Trump) were duds as “big-ticket items.” And the repeal of Obamacare was an exploding cigar in the face of the Republican Party as its standard-bearer ran away from any kind of responsibility. But, when it came to the budget and raising the debt ceiling, rather than bother with doing a deal with Ryan and McConnell, the president immediately lunged for a deal with “Chuck and Nancy,” as he called them while whipsawing on another GOP priority, ending the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program. “Chuck and Nancy would like to see something happen,” Trump said about the Obama-era immigration policy he “rescinded” through his attorney general the day before, “and so do I.”
Of course, what Trump agreed to was the right thing to do. Raising the debt ceiling to prevent an unpredictable global economic catastrophe is of paramount importance. Passing a budget to keep the government open is vital, too. Of course, Trump could undo everything with one tweet or raucous rally. Until that happens, I’ll keep chuckling about the president’s confounding ways that yielded a short-term positive result —this one time.
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