According to reports from Axios and the New York Times, Donald Trump and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell have not spoken in weeks. It isn’t unheard of for a sitting President and a Senate Majority Leader to have limited contact with one another; however, it is a rather unusual occurrence when the President and the Majority Leader are members of the same party.
The catalyst for Trump’s latest decision to take his ball and go home was the Senate’s failure to pass their abomination of a health care bill. The dramatic eleventh-hour collapse of Obamacare repeal led to a “profane shouting match” between Trump and McConnell.
In the aftermath of that call, McConnell has privately criticized Trump, saying that the President is “unwilling to learn the basics of governing,” to which I think any reasonable person would respond: No shit. Vox has also reported (by way of the Times) that Trump’s anger may have a secondary source: McConnell’s refusal to step in to protect Trump from the ongoing investigation into possible collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia.
The report from the Times also cites McConnell’s privately-held belief that the Trump administration may already be dead in the water. Senator McConnell may be a contemptible human being, but he is a savvy political operator, so the fact that he’s already attempting to put some daylight between himself and the White House — a Republican White House that would, in theory, allow him to advance his most depraved policy proposals — does not bode well for the Trump administration.
There is, however, a possible silver lining to the tension between two of the most powerful men in the Republican Party. (Aside, of course, from the silver lining that none of Trump’s or McConnell’s proposed policies are coming to pass.) You see, the more the rift grows between Trump and the rest of the GOP, the better the odds that Trump might find support from an unlikely ally: the Democrats.
I realize this sounds insane, but hear me out.
The conventional wisdom on Donald Trump suggests that our Commander-in-Chief is equal parts narcissism, rampant insecurity, and emotional volatility. It is not uncommon for Trump to take a stance on something without any consideration given towards the long-term implications; similarly, it is not uncommon for Trump to reverse his stance with little or no warning, even denying he ever held his original position in the first place.
The most effective way to control Trump is through flattery. It’s why, less than eight months after being sworn in as President, the number of campaign-style rallies he’s held (eight) is greater than the number of his achievements as President (a generous six). Donald Trump is primarily addicted to attention, and if it’s positive, so much the better.
This is not a well-guarded secret: world leaders have massaged Trump’s boundless ego in order to get what they want. Tell him his Electoral College victory was the most impressive thing you’ve ever seen, gush about how great he was on the campaign trail, and he’s putty in your hands. (I still find it fascinating that he ever managed to turn a profit in the private sector; I’m far more confident than I should be that I could get him to sign over the deed to Trump Tower by telling him I’m naming my firstborn child Donald Trump Ross.)
This is where the Democrats come in.
Without the support of the Senate Majority Leader, Trump is an island. He can stage all the rallies he wants, he can shout himself hoarse about the “fake news media,” he can tweet grainy-as-hell memes about CNN, but the attention he gets from those actions is fleeting; when all is said and done, he’s still the Do-Nothing President. At some point, even a man as intellectually incurious as Trump will realize that to truly make his mark, he needs to get his name on a good piece of legislation.
If congressional Democrats had an ounce of political acuity (the jury remains deadlocked on that one), they would use Trump’s current state of isolation to set meetings, get in his ear, and appeal to his vanity. Democrats could tell Trump that he needs to pass single-payer healthcare in order to be considered a better President than Barack Obama.
It’s not as though Trump is a dyed-in-the-wool Republican, either; as recently as 2004, Trump admitted: “I probably identify more as Democrat.” In fact, the only ideological consistency Trump exhibits is, well, inconsistency — it certainly wouldn’t be out of character for Trump to pull an about-face and shift his focus to policy proposals that are actually supported by the majority of the American public.
An easy jumping-off point would be infrastructure; Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer has indicated that Democrats would be willing to work with Trump on the right bill, and that’s as close to a sure thing as exists in Washington these days: our failing infrastructure would receive a desperately-needed overhaul, it would create jobs for the working class and, best of all, Trump would probably come out of the arrangement with a brand-new highway bearing his name.
Lamentably, I doubt it’s going to happen. Democrats were deservedly slapped around for being too accommodating in the early days of the Trump administration. They allowed some of his more alarmingly-unqualified cabinet appointments (Betsy DeVos, I’m looking at you) to sail through the confirmation process because of some misguided belief that, despite all evidence to the contrary, Trump would return the favor down the line.
Since then, the Democrats have glommed onto the idea that they should #resist any and every policy proposal the White House puts forth. It’s a notion propagated by the kinds of people who pretend to care about liberal values (i.e., people who say shit like “#NotMyPresident and #StillWithHer”) in order to get more likes on Twitter.
Because they are woefully out of touch with what the left wants, the Democratic Party has gone all-in on this gambit; as a result, their odds of meaningful cooperation are slim at best. Of course, Democrats aren’t the only ones to blame — Trump has made himself politically radioactive, and those still rallying to his defense are only doing so in a blatant attempt to take advantage of his (temporary) largesse.
With his recent behavior, Trump has painted himself into a corner. And as stubborn as he is, it seems unlikely that he’ll make any meaningful effort to smooth things over with McConnell or the Democratic Party. Unless McConnell returns to the fold of his own volition, it seems like the rest of Trump’s time in office will be, to borrow a phrase from Shakespeare, “A tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.”
Maybe that’s not such a bad thing.