Donald Trump has been at war with Republicans pretty much since Day One of his presidential campaign. That strategy made sense when he was on the outside, trying to break in. Exit polls show voters chose him mostly because they wanted change.
But now that Trump is on the inside, his stiff-arm to Republicans makes absolutely no sense. Over the past few weeks, he's publicly dissed half a dozen Republicans. And on Friday, The Washington Post reported this is a full-blown strategy for him. He's distancing himself from the party to avoid blame if they can't get anything done.
That's the opposite of helpful to Trump, except for one reason. Let's game this out:
1. Not helpful: Wasn't he supposed to be a master dealmaker?
Trump's election pitch to voters went like this: I may not know politics, but I know how to make a deal.
Seven months into his administration, he's not making deals. He's tacitly acknowledging he can't make them as he promised.
2. Not helpful: He's trashing Republicans while they're down
As none other than Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) said this month, legislating takes time.
“Our new president, of course, has not been in this line of work before,” he told constituents. “And I think he had excessive expectations about how quickly things happen in the democratic process.”
It took Democrats more than a year and numerous false starts to pass the Affordable Care Act, or Obamacare. Repealing it won't happen quickly, either.
This sounds obvious, but I guess I need to say it: Fighting with one another only exacerbates the very real ideological and personal rifts in the Republican Party. That makes it less likely it can repeal Obamacare or pass tax reform or secure the border or any other number of campaign promises that are in the mutual interest of Trump and Republicans in Congress to fulfill.
3. Not helpful: He's giving Democrats an opening to say 'I told you so!'
Democrats have their own problems. They are struggling to land on a message that resonates that isn't just: Trump is bad.
But lucky Democrats. Trump is handing them a broader and simple message with his repeated attacks on his own party: Dysfunctional Republicans can't govern, even when they control all of Washington.
Democrats have a solid case to make on that front. After failing to deliver on a seven-year campaign promise to repeal Obamacare, Republicans and Trump are even fighting about whether to shut down the government in September.
“With a Republican House, Senate and Administration, Republicans have absolutely no excuses for threatening America's families with a destructive and pointless government shutdown,” House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) said in a statement Wednesday after Trump threatened to shut down the government if he didn't get money for his border wall.
4. Really not helpful: He could be digging his own political grave
Most legal experts say a sitting president can't be indicted. But he can get impeached by Congress.
Republicans control Congress, and they aren't seriously entertaining this. But some Democrats are. Trump's attacks on his GOP colleagues could make it easier for Democrats to pick up seats or even pick up the majority in the House in November 2018's midterm elections
It's a long shot, but it's not impossible. Twenty-three House Republicans sit in congressional districts that Hillary Clinton won in November; Democrats need to net 24 seats to back the majority. The House, unlike the Senate, is a majority-rule chamber. It doesn't matter how big your majority is, only that you have it.
Speaking of the Senate, Republicans are actually in a position to pick up seats in 2018. If they perform perfectly, they could even score a filibuster-proof 60 seats. They are trying to take down at least 10 Democrats who are running in states Trump won, sometimes by double digits. And they only have two vulnerable Republicans — Sens. Jeff Flake (Ariz.) and Dean Heller (Nev.).
But guess which two Republicans Trump has gone after?
If Democrats manage to take back the House and keep their 48-seat minority in the Senate, Trump could be in real political trouble. At least three Democrats have filed or have promised to file articles of impeachment. Others have filed motions to censure Trump.
That would be the worst-case scenario for Trump, and it's far from a given. But he's driving a lot of the divisions that could get him there.
1. Potentially helpful: He's browbeating Republicans to get in line
Trump appears to be forcing Republican voters to choose between him or their lawmakers in Congress. And polls suggest the Republican base is open to siding with the president.
As The Fix's Aaron Blake noted this week, polling shows the vast majority of Republicans remain loyal to the president and are following Trump's lead. A majority of Republicans think their GOP lawmaker has not been “supportive enough” of Trump, according to a new George Washington University Battleground poll.
Polling suggests standing up to Trump comes with political risks. And that's exactly the message Trump wants to get across to a Congress that seems less and less fond of him with each passing day.