With President Trump's major legislative items stuck in Congress — or on the drawing board — the conversation has turned to whether he can win over “moderate Democrats.” In the unusually friendly description of White House press secretary Sean Spicer, “he's looking for members on both sides of the aisle who want to be constructive to achieve the goal of a patient-centered health-care system.”

Can he do this? The short answer is no. The longer answer has to do with the way Republicans are using Senate rules to get their agenda through, which has thrown the Senate — where moderate Democrats actually matter — into a sort of legislative phantom zone.

Basically, there are two methods for getting bills through the Congress and to the president's desk. The first, usually shorthanded as “regular order,” is to move bills through committees, pass them through both houses of Congress, and eventually get them past the Senate's 60-vote filibuster threshold for legislation. The second is to use one of the very few methods by which measures can be slipped through the Senate with just 51 votes. The big one is the reconciliation process; another, the one used for almost every bill passed in 2017, is the review process, by which Congress can strike down executive regulations created after May 2016.

To get most of their work done, Republicans need to win 216 votes in the House (below the usual 218, because of retirements) and 60 votes in the Senate. That means winning over eight Democrats. Superficially, that might seem doable — as Republican strategists never tire of pointing out, and Democrats grit their teeth when talking about, 10 Democrats up for reelection in 2018 come from states won by Trump.

But that factoid has a way of obscuring political reality. Five Senate Democrats come from states that Trump won by landslides in 2016, and some, like Sen. Heidi Heitkamp (D-N.D.), have said for months that they can work with the president. The other five come from states that Barack Obama won twice: Florida, Michigan, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin.

To block any bill, Democrats need to hold only 41 members of their 48-seat caucus. Theoretically, every major Trump bill can win the votes of the most vulnerable Democrats, but fail when it loses the votes of Sens. Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.), Robert P. Casey Jr. (D-Pa.) and Tammy Baldwin (D-Wis.), whose states gave Trump razor-thin plurality victories and who need to excite liberal voters to win in midterms that usually have lower turnout. And when it comes to health care, all five of the “narrow” Trump state Democrats have already signed a letter opposing any Republican bills so long as repeal is on the table. And neither Senate nor House Republicans think they can pass a bill in the House with Democratic votes.

That's left Republicans doing what they always intended if a Republican won the presidency — using the Congressional Review Act to unwind regulations from the final months of the Obama administration. Doing so has allowed them to put up some actual wins for the energy industry, telecoms and perhaps antiabortion groups.

Of course, resolutions that need just 51 votes need not win any Democrats at all. They even allow Democrats some free votes to differentiate themselves from the rest of their party; think of the resolution that struck down the stream rule, which was favored by mining companies and attracted the support of Heitkamp and Sen. Joe Manchin III (D-W.Va.).

The result of all this is a paradox: Republicans can move more quickly on hard-right priorities than they can on policies with broader appeal. And that's having an effect on the rest of their agenda. In interviews this week, House and Senate Democrats often responded to questions about whether they could work with Trump by citing CRAs and executive orders that he'd pushed across his desk at the speed of light.

You could imagine a hypothetical president — say, a former Democrat who wrote a book about the art of dealmaking — who found a way around this. He could, using the threat to work around Democrats, bring them on board for some big-ticket legislation. But this president does not exist.