Donald Trump’s recent liberal lurch and embrace of the amicably-named “Chuck and Nancy” as cohorts in the quest to “get things done” has aggravated Republicans and conservatives. The typical line of Trump apologetics from his partisan sycophants (who would sooner confess to a crime they didn’t commit than berate the avatar of their anti-establishmentarianism) is some derivation of “Paul Ryan and congressional Republicans are a bunch of RINOs; Trump had no choice but to work with the Democrats if he wants to get things done. MAGA!”
Paul Ryan and Mitch McConnell are the rightful targets of much conservative consternation, but such an analysis fails, of course, to acknowledge two things: first, the merit of “getting things done” depends entirely on what exactly those “things” are, and second, if your frustration with the congressional GOP is about their failure to achieve conservative legislation, surely you know better than to mistake a partnership with Chuck Schumer as a means to that end.
What Trump’s actions on DACA and the debt ceiling represent about Trump the man and Trump the President is a more difficult pronouncement. The first, and perhaps most likely, explanation is that Trump is a complete non-ideologue to the point of being able to schizophrenically switch between policy extremes on the whims of his “deal-making” desires. This would be consistent with his own life arc; the man was a New York liberal Democrat for the majority of his life whose animating principle seemed to be a spiteful contrarianism. His seeming transformation from a silver screen progressive to a (self-proclaimed) immigration restrictionist with a populist streak almost suspends belief. The one constant across the Trumpian universe is a desire for adulation. Trump’s primary motivator often seems to be praise, and the good press and kind words from Pelosi and Schumer he’s received after his recent immigration shifts could be scratching Trump’s itch for approval.
The second possibility, and one that would be most disheartening to Trump’s oft-mentioned and misunderstood base, is that Trump’s decision to wheel and deal with progressives on upholding DACA without using the move as leverage to tie concessions on wall funding is that he lied to the American people and was always soft on immigration. While one, perhaps even this author, can and would make a Reaganesque case for a one-time, non-citizenship, amnesty tied to wall funding for the so-called “Dreamers,” who aren’t necessarily responsible for their parents’ lawlessness, Trump ran on a hawkish border agenda like few presidents in modern political history. These moves contradict his campaign promises, whatever one might think of them, and it is quite possible to conceptualize that Trump exploited the populist appeal of intense border security without an undergirding belief in the idea.
What Trump would be smart to recognize is that the Democratic message is so tightly wound to a hatred for Trump the man — the “white supremacist,” the “fascist” — that even cosigning socialist Bernie Sanders’ single-payer health care proposal wouldn’t put him in progressive good graces. Every late-night show and major cultural opus is rife with the worst sorts of hyperboles; Stephen Colbert’s latest Hitlerian reference is a mere microcosm of the deep hatred that abides for Trump among liberals. Much of the same, in fairness, was true with President Obama in office — conservative outlets were wary to praise what any supply-sider would see as Obama’s largely solid record on free trade because so much of the animation for the Tea Party movement was hatred for Obama’s statist tendencies. Politics is a tribal affair, with the easiest point of unification often coming by laying everything “your side” hates at the feet of one figure. Trump said the unsayable, unspeakable truth about American politics — he dared to say that it’s possible that there are real downsides to unfettered immigration. Progressives, on that charge, will never take him back, and playing footsie with Nancy Pelosi won’t change how much the progressive base of the Democratic Party hates the man. The GOP elected him, even if they did so tenuously, and Trump’s only path to political solvency comes through the Republican Party.