Trump Makes a Well-Disguised Pivot

Yes, I predicted this.

President Trump confounded leaders from his own party on Wednesday by siding with Democrats on plans to fund the government and raise the debt ceiling, upending negotiations on a variety of crucial policy areas this fall and further damaging relationships with Republicans on Capitol Hill.

Trump made his position clear at a White House meeting with congressional leaders, agreeing with Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.) and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) by voicing support for a three-month bill to fund the government and raise the debt ceiling for the same amount of time.

In fact, I predicted it last night, in a piece called GOP Leaders Agree to Give Finger to Far Right:

On August 31st, I argued that pairing disaster relief with the debt ceiling was a no-brainer for the Republican leadership and that it could offer them a way out of the complete crack-up this September that I’ve been predicting for months.

To be honest, this was such an obvious move that I can’t take any credit for advocating it, and I’m not at all surprised to see that this is precisely the way they are going to go. It is significant, however, because it is a big, gigantic middle finger to the House Freedom Caucus and all the hard right deficit scolds. And we’ve all basically been waiting for the Republican leadership to tell these folks to go screw themselves for the entire time Trump has been president.

They forced Boehner out of power for less effrontery than this, and taking that scalp has made the seem more fearsome than they really are. Trump has been preemptively appeasing them in recent weeks, especially with his pardon of Arpaio and his attempt to spin the DACA decision as a true repeal. But this is a basically a set up to knife them repeatedly throughout this month. Trump and the Republican leadership have no choice but to blow them off on pretty much everything on the must-do list in September…

…This all makes the Democrats relevant again, and that will become more obvious after the meeting Trump takes today with Schumer and Pelosi.

There are a couple of twists to this that I didn’t predict, however. McConnell and Ryan have nicely positioned themselves to look like the victims of this plan rather than its co-authors and beneficiaries. This gives them some cover, and as I wrote in The Right Needs to Be Sidelined piece yesterday, they’ll need it.

To avoid a catastrophic default, a government shutdown, and a lapse in children’s health care, federal aviation safety and flood insurance, the Republican leadership in the Congress and the White House will have to tell [the] Heritage [Foundation] to pound sand.

And then they’ll have to figure out how to survive politically, which John Boehner and Eric Cantor can tell them will not be easy.

Also, they lumped a 90-day continuing resolution into this deal, which was smart but not something that I thought would be possible. On this last part, it does actually look like McConnell and Ryan got rolled a bit. They’re now set up to have a new headache around Christmas time, and the Democrats are liking how their leverage will look at that time. In reality, though, these moves make the congressional leadership’s job this month much more manageable. And that’s something they desperately needed.

It should be much easier now to work on reauthorizations for Defense and the FAA, CHIP and flood insurance programs, and perhaps even to do a little work on the budget.

Trump absolutely had to pivot to the Democrats but he was careful to do it in a way that disguised his actions. In just a few days, he did a jujitsu on DACA that sets him to actually sign the DREAM Act, he agreed to a continuing resolution with no money for his wall, he agreed to a clean debt ceiling hike, and he got his disaster relief without making a single concession to the far right. Ryan and McConnell get to look like the aggrieved party which helps them weather their co-authorship and complicity in these sell-outs.

It’s a job well done all around. Given the alternatives, Trump comes out quite well, but he dug himself such a deep hole that he actually had to severely anger everyone to lift himself way partially out. The right might not be as angry as they should be, but they’re still angry. The left has never been more incensed after his recent racial antics and gamesmanship on DACA. And I suspect the mushy-middle is less relieved than exhausted.

It’s better than late disaster relief, an actual end to DACA, a government shutdown and a credit default, but it’s still a terrible political position to be in.

Martin Longman

Martin Longman is the web editor for the Washington Monthly and the main blogger at Booman Tribune.