What’s Really Happening between Trump and His Base?

There is a multi pronged effort to divide and distract President Trump’s base, and delay the implementation of his agenda. Congressional Democrats and the anti-Trump GOP establishment seem to be working together to ensure none of the President’s initiatives have a shot at becoming law. Adding to the confusion coming out of Washington is the realization that the President’s base may contain more nuance in opinion than has been apparent to date.

It’s easy to get comfortable after winning the White House and sustaining success from recent elections, and Republicans are short sighted to dismiss the Democrats as being defeated. While it’s true they posses the least amount of institutional power since the 1920’s, they are retaining the ability to derail the advancement of the President’s agenda through influence and distraction. Institutional power means nothing to the left-they are surviving on influence alone.

Procedurally Republicans lack 60 votes in the senate, so a united democrat coalition can stall most legislation. This takes collusion with anti-Trump Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, who could at any time change the rules and move legislation with a simple majority vote. There is no constitutional requirement for the filibuster, it was a rule implemented later. McConnell suspended the rules to put Neil Gorsuch on the Supreme Court so he can’t claim he’s taking a moral stance. Mitch McConnell, Paul Ryan, and countless Republicans-In-Name-Only made the decision long ago to not only stall the Presidents agenda, and thus ignore the constituents they swore to serve.

Realizing he’s between a rock and a hard place when it comes to advancing legislation, the President has begun to reach out to Democrats to try to form new coalitions and work around the lack of functional Republican leadership in Congress. Chuck Shumer was caught on a hot mic saying that the President “likes him”, and Trump also dined with key democrat Senators from States he carried in 2016. It’s clear he’s stepping up his involvement in the legislative process and doing his own vote counting/coalition building. After being burned by the GOP establishment trying to repeal and replace Obamacare, the President wants to take a different approach to both tax reform and DACA/broader border security.

A third factor emerging as a barrier to the advance of the President’s agenda is the fact that the base itself isn’t an intellectual/policy hegemony. Though there seemed to be alignment around a core of key issues during election season, now that it’s time to turn platform to policy there are a few stark differences of opinion coming to light. Some of the differences are regarding policy itself, while some are centered around sequencing of key election promises and assigning levels of importance between the issues. The reality of the Republican party has always been fragmentation on the dirty details of policy. Democrats are at least a little better at uniting to move legislation, almost to the detriment of our system of checks and balances.

There has also been an apparent softening of Trump’s views on border security/immigration in regards to his handling of the DACA announcement and recent comments that seem soft on the border wall. While it’s true that Trump campaigned on ending DACA and throwing in phrases like “they have to go back”, its also fair to acknowledge that there is a fair portion of the base, or at least Trump’s election coalition in general, that want to see DACA codified into law in some way.

I believe it’s too early to tell if Trump is actually softening on border security and building the wall, or if he’s employing some other tactic as leverage. I think it’s important to examine what is done and not what is said, especially when examining Donald Trump. The sentiments around DACA are new, though his arguments have merit. The reality of the DACA situation is that Paul Ryan and Mitch McConnell hold the cards the leverage around that issue, and probably have a Super Majority and could override a Trump veto on a DACA bill. There is little political upside for Trump to wedge his veto against DACA only to be over ridden on a bi-partisan basis.

If DACA is signed into law, and the border wall funding is not a condition of the deal, the President can still get funding for the border wall in another way, before the end of the year. By Trump siding with Democrats to only punt the debt ceiling limit debate by 3 months, he retained shutting down the government as a point of leverage for any undone legislation. It is true that President Trump took that deal as a signal to the GOP establishment that he’s willing to get creative to pass his agenda.

Had Paul Ryan succeeded in increasing the debt ceiling for 18 months, he would take away a valuable tool from the President. Everyone believes the debt ceiling will be used as to force the Democrats into submission on some key issue, but in reality President Trump needs the threat of a government shutdown to hold Paul Ryan, Mitch McConnell, and the Congressional GOP accountable for their lack of action. The only other option is waiting them out and mounting primary opponents that will align with the President’s agenda, but because of the nature of elections that is a long waiting game with too many variables to be a reliable strategy. There is a movement under way to primary old school Republicans, and it will be interesting to see what happens in 2018 as an indicator.

The President doesn’t have time on his side, and must continue to think out of the box to advance his agenda. He also has to remain 100% committed to his agenda. It is true that it seems he has wavered at times on a few key campaign promises, but again, don’t focus on Trump’s words. He may be using his words to rile the base into a frenzy that spurs action. Save judgement for actual actions and legislation that is signed. Trump’s words may be a distraction that sets up drastic action.

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