The Week on Planet Trump: The Deal-maker-in-Chief Has No Idea What He is Doing

Monday: No Idea

The word “deal” has a definition. It implies mutual benefit and reciprocity as a result of a negotiation. The arrangement to which Donald Trump agreed with House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer on Wednesday was no deal because there was no negotiation. By all accounts, Trump took the first offer Democrats made to secure an unconditional hike in the nation’s debt ceiling for just three months in exchange for disaster relief—with no spending offsets.

For the “Never Trump” conservative right, this amounts to the confirmation of a theory: Donald Trump is a closet liberal. Not really. Trump is no conservative—he’s essentially admitted as much—but his ideological affinities are tenuous at best. He’s done some conservative things, and he’s done some liberal things. Where Trump-skeptical conservatives have a point is their contention that pragmatism untampered by principle is dangerous. That proposition is going to get a serious real-world test when Republicans and Democrats head back to the negotiating table on the debt ceiling in November.

Noah Rothman, Commentary Magazine

Tuesday: GOP Can’t Govern

Now, with Trump in office, Democrats are the ones with little incentive to cooperate. And there are still some Republicans behaving as though they’re in the minority. Those dynamics give the GOP very little room for error. The party has only a thin margin in the Senate, with 52 seats, so they can’t afford a lot of defections even on votes where a simple majority is enough. Trump opponents, meanwhile, have also had some success in the courts, which have been especially sympathetic to objections against the administration’s travel bans.

So what’s the outlook for the GOP as a governing majority? Various public breaks between Trump and congressional Republicans — including the most recent one over the debt ceiling — illustrate that the GOP coalition hasn’t yet figured out how to overcome its differences. But that’s a hard lesson to learn, let alone apply for any length of time. The coalition of New Deal-era Democrats eventually fell apart, after all — once they finally addressed the challenge of civil rights, the party’s hold on majority status started to crumble under the weight of disagreements over this and other policies.

An opposition party has the luxury of a unifying objective — pointing out the shortcomings of the majority. As the musical Hamilton tells us, “governing is harder.”

Julia Azari, FiveThirtyEight

Wednesday: Destroying the Presidency

“Enlightened statesmen will not always be at the helm,” James Madison wrote in one of the Federalist Papers during the debates over the ratification of the Constitution. He was right, but he never could have imagined Donald Trump.

At this point in the singular Trump presidency, we can begin to assess its impact on American democracy. The news thus far is not all bad. The Constitution’s checks and balances have largely stopped Trump from breaking the law. And while he has hurt his own administration, his successors likely won’t repeat his self-destructive antics. The prognosis for the rest of our democratic culture is grimmer, however. Trump’s bizarre behavior has coarsened politics and induced harmful norm-breaking by the institutions he has attacked. These changes will be harder to undo.

Trump, in short, is wielding a Soprano touch on American institutions. “I’m fucking King Midas in reverse here,” Tony Soprano once told his therapist.

Jack Golsmith, The Atlantic

Thursday: Republican Civil War

The intense hostility that so many Trump supporters feel for Ryan and McConnell and most elected Republicans right now shouldn’t be underestimated. Part of it is rooted in the power of Trump’s cult of personality, which has replaced conservative fervor as the animating force of the GOP base in just the few years since the tea-party revolution of 2010. There are good reasons why the Republicans failed to repeal and replace Obamacare, and some of them have to do with Trump’s ineffectiveness and the scope of the mess Barack Obama created. But the public blames Ryan and McConnell. That some of the same people who were calling for smaller government a few years ago now back Trump’s non-conservative approach to governance is ironic. But it doesn’t change the fact that he and Bannon understand that the populist wing of the party has the enthusiasm that conservatives once took for granted.

Conservatives may think Trump is leading the GOP to disaster in 2018. But even if that is true and is followed by Trump’s being defeated for re-election in 2020 — something that is far from certain but is a real possibility unless he reverses his catastrophic job-approval numbers — no one should be under the impression that what emerges after such a defeat would be a Republican party reclaimed intact by resurgent conservatives.

Jonathan S. Tobin, National Review

Friday: Trump Flip Flops on DACA

In parts of the conservative media, this is a day of outrage and mourning. “At this point, who doesn’t want Trump impeached?” Ann Coulter, the columnist and author, demanded on Twitter early in the day. Lou Dobbs, of Fox Business Network*, was also in high dudgeon. “Who stole White House?” he demanded. “Morning tweets sound like Obama, maybe Clinton, not #maga, not #AmericaFirst not @realDonaldTrump #TrumpTrain #DTS.”

These outbursts came in the aftermath of a Chinese-food dinner that Donald Trump shared at the White House on Wednesday night with Nancy Pelosi and Chuck Schumer. After the dinner, the two Democrats announced that they and Trump had reached an agreement on maintaining legal protections for Dreamers, undocumented immigrants who arrived in this country as minors, with no concessions on funding the border wall with Mexico that Trump has long called for. The White House and Trump himself then sent mixed signals about just what was agreed to at the dinner, spurring Breitbart, the right-wing Web site run by Trump’s former adviser Steve Bannon, to run a headline calling the President “Amnesty Don.” On Thursday morning, Trump issued a series of tweets in which he denied striking a deal but added, “Does anybody really want to throw out good, educated and accomplished young people who have jobs, some serving in the military? Really! . . . . .”

John Cassidy, The New Yorker

Saturday: Dancing with Democrats

Trump's recent willingness to slap around his own party, the ease with which he has stepped away from campaign promises on immigration, and the whiplash accompanying his messaging shifts has prompted the usual round of tortured explanations for his behavior.

Sean Hannity, the Fox News host and Trump apologist, blames McConnell and the GOP because they wanted Trump "to fail and now pushed him into the arms of political suicide" with Democrats.

Others have divined wily deal-making stratagems. "Trump teams up with Democrats as strategy evolves," a Fox Business headline advised.

All of this gives Trump more credit than he deserves. Sometimes confusion is just confusion.

Pelosi and Schumer can temporarily play Trump, but they shouldn't mistake a short-term deal for a lasting alliance. Ryan and McConnell might see him as a vessel for achieving their own goals, but that's transitory as well. Trump's voters and supporters might see him as a polestar, but beware.

Trump wants to appear to be outmaneuvering everyone else, and he wants press coverage that portrays him at the top of his game. So he'll take unpredictable stances on issues in hopes of receiving a compliment or two. Artful policymaking has nothing to do with it.

And none of this is deal-making. It's just pinball, a game Trump's always played.

Timothy L. O’Brien, Bloomberg

Sunday: Trump Should Worry About Congress

Special or independent prosecutors have been used to investigate three presidents (and their administrations): President Nixon for Watergate, President Reagan for Iran-Contra, and President Clinton for the Whitewater scandal and later the Lewinsky affair. If history is any guide, Trump’s fate will be decided not by Mueller but by Congress.

In all three of those precedents, the appointment of special or independent prosecutors and their subsequent investigations took years to bear results, especially with respect to the president. None of those investigations was particularly disruptive until a credible threat of impeachment materialized. And, most importantly for Trump, none of the investigations on their own significantly eroded intra-party support for the president.

If these precedents are a reliable guide, Trump ought to benefit from the two-way street that runs between congressional backing (needed to stave off impeachment) and popular support within the party (needed to discourage congressmen from abandoning ship). Based on timing alone, the key to his fate will likely be the 2018 midterm elections, not the special counsel. If Democrats take back the House—and regain the power to issue subpoenas and hold public hearings—Trump will be in real trouble.

Niall Ferguson and Joshua Zoffer, The Atlantic

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