Oh, puh-leez. President Trump is not an “independent,” as right-wing Republicans now would like to believe. (Didn’t they spend the campaign trying to convince fellow Republicans that he was really a conservative?) Trump ran for the GOP nomination, captured the party and now hypes every bad idea that the party’s most extreme elements have espoused — tax cuts for the rich, anti-immigrant hysteria, fear-mongering on crime, know-nothingism on climate change, anti-government animus, and bigotry toward the LGBT community (hence the totally unnecessary ban on transgender recruits to the military). Much as Republicans might like to disown him, they cannot. They remain responsible for nominating the most unfit person ever to hold the office.
Between conservatives miffed about the debt ceiling and journalists pining for a “Trump surprised the political establishment” story line (a variation on the “pivot” stories), one would think Trump thought his deal out in advance and had a carefully constructed plan to reorganize the two-party system. From everything we know — including accounts from aides who discussed the game plan before the meeting — Trump acted on the spur of the moment, on impulse out of personal pique. (He really does not like Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and House Speaker Paul D. Ryan). A new, “more presidential” Trump (how many times have we heard that?) did not emerge last week; the same narcissistic personality who puts his own “winning” above any other concern simply reappeared.
Democrats generally don’t want the president to do things, because most everything he wants to do, in their minds, is dangerous, foolish and/or hurts their constituents. They want the Trump of health care — stymied, erratic, frustrated and ignorant — to be the Trump of tax reform. They want him to make a mess, render a deal impossible and leave Republicans looking like dopes. Democrats have no illusions that they will pass a tax bill to their liking; they merely want Trump to hinder the Republicans’ chances of passing a tax bill that includes big giveaways to the richest Americans. And the latter is looking awfully promising at this point.
Republicans had oodles of problems on tax reform even before Trump made his deal on the debt ceiling. They don’t have savings from repeal of Obamacare to offset the huge revenue losses their plan would produce. Republicans cannot agree on how to pay for — or even whether they should pay for — tax cuts that largely benefit the rich. Pro-business Republicans want “full expensing” for capital investments; others want as flat a tax code as possible. Some insist tax reform is needed, while others just want cuts. The president, who gives speeches vague in content but that raise expectations sky-high, is of little help on substance (other than pushing real estate gimmicks). Worse, he is just as likely to undercut the House, as he did on health-care legislation, after House Republicans pass something as he is to push for Senate passage. When Obamacare backlash began, Trump decided the House’s bill was “mean”; if a tax plan tilted to the rich passes the House and stirs criticism one can easily imagine Trump trashing a bill he helped design.
Republicans should not fear that Trump will get through tax legislation that suits Democrats instead of Republicans; they should worry that whenever there is a chance to score points in his favor, he’ll be happy to cut their legs out from under them. One cannot construct tax legislation, which is always controversial insofar as it creates winners and losers, when congressional Republicans cannot trust or even predict what the president of their own party will do. Republicans likely will spend weeks flailing away, with periodic outbursts from Trump, only to have Trump bash them at the end, handing Democrats wonderful material for 2018 campaign ads. When Republicans and Trump fail to deliver on yet another GOP agenda item, “Chuck and Nancy” (as he now calls them) can offer him a deal on Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals. (Trump fixes DACA in exchange for making Republicans look bad, or something nearly as one-sided.)
Republicans backed an erratic, unstable man for president who cares only about his own wealth and glory. Now that they cannot cope with the political monster they created, they prefer to write him off as an independent? No way. Trump’s on you, Republicans.