Many people profess shock that Donald Trump, the longtime registered Democrat, big-time Democrat donor and one-time best pal with the Clintons, would suddenly turn on his Republican Party’s feckless leadership and do a stunning legislative package deal with old pals among congressional Democrats.
It’s almost as if Trump was so disappointed with the ineffectiveness of Speaker Paul Ryan, Sen. Mitch McConnell and their feuding factions passively-aggressively failing to push the president’s agenda. So, Trump decided to send a message – to them and to all the voters who bought into his campaign denunciations of both party establishments and the way Washington does – and doesn’t – do business.
No one should be surprised that the upstart New York wheeler-dealer, who chose the GOP as a flag of political convenience and overrode 16 other competitors and its establishment’s concerted opposition, is a pragmatist and not really conservative.
Neither is the GOP’s leadership, truth be told. The only thing conservative about Trump is his limited choice of neckties – red or light blue every single day.
Everything else is the art of the deal. Someone should write a book with that title.
And, you know, at this point in the political morass of Washington’s dysfunction, that’s not necessarily bad. It’s unpredictable. It’s disruptive. It’s no doubt tripled D.C. sales of Tums and Pepcid.
But as millions on the outside look at how well Washington and its wealthy Beltway counties have consistently taken care of themselves first, a decisive dose of distress seems like maybe just what the billionaire populist should order.
Now, whether that gets anything constructive done domestically in the long run is another question. For now, it’s produced the most compelling national political stories in recent memory, a golden gift to the media that Trump the protagonist loves and hates.
Sure, much of the action is about Trump. No one with an undersized ego becomes president, although Jimmy Carter came close. Every president is nourished by attention.
And let’s be honest, no normal person does one tedious major fundraiser on average every single week for eight straight years, as Obama did. It didn’t work. Obama’s party lost both houses of Congress, about 1,000 state legislative seats and then the Oval Office. But the Chicagoan got the satisfaction of people forking over $30,000 each just to eat in his presidential presence.
At a Wednesday White House meeting of both party’s congressional leaders, Trump blindsided Ryan and McConnell by suddenly agreeing to Chuck Schumer’s plan to avoid a government shutdown, raise the debt limit for just three months and approve Hurricane Harvey aid, a plan GOP leaders had labeled ridiculous.
So, for Trump there’s no such thing as forever friends – or enemies. He touted the arrangement as bipartisan, saying there are many things both parties can work on together. "The people of the U.S. want to see a coming together," he said.
“I think we’ll have a different relationship than we've been watching over the last number of years,” Trump added. “I hope so. I think that's a great thing for our country. And I think that's what the people of the United States want to see. They want to see some dialogue.”
Democrats were understandably gleeful because it gives them renewed leverage come December, possibly to cancel or postpone the end of Obama’s unconstitutional so-called Dreamers program.
Predictably, the conservative Freedom Caucus threatened to sabotage the plans for lack of new spending restraints.
But here’s what the deal also does: It opens wide the September legislative calendar. That could possibly allow momentum to build on tax reform. And it could mean another last-ditch Obamacare repeal with a block-grant proposal by Sens. Bill Cassidy and Lindsey Graham and endorsed by John McCain, whose nay vote killed the last repeal bid.
Trump also began to discuss with Schumer eliminating the debt ceiling rule altogether. This would erase one of those inexplicable holy Washington fights over what else to attach to it, the kind of useless struggle that convulses Washington pols regularly to no productive end.
All kinds of things can and may well go wrong now or at year’s end.
But it is at least conceivable now that Trump’s shocking deal with Democrats could smooth Harvey aid, postpone or avert the shutdown threat, commence a welcome bipartisan dialogue and help produce Trump’s coveted Obamacare repeal so often promised yet never delivered by legislators.
Not a bad outcome for an impulsive political rookie that so few of the pros were taking seriously.
Malcolm is an author and veteran national and foreign correspondent covering politics since the 1960s. Follow him @AHMalcolm.