First things first, let’s be clear: this is not the Trump Pivot we’ve all been hearing about for the past eight months.
Trying to predict The Moment Donald Trump Became President has become something of a cottage industry within the media. Despite Trump’s antagonistic relationship with them, even outlets like CNN haven’t given up the ghost of Trump somehow morphing into a traditional president overnight, transforming the past three-quarters of a year from “living nightmare” to “rocky start.” If they were holding their breath, they’d have asphyxiated by now.
The latest wave of anticipation comes after a week of Trump’s uncharacteristically conciliatory treatment of congressional Democrats. First, there was Trump’s agreement with Democratic leaders Nancy Pelosi and Chuck Schumer to raise the debt ceiling and provide relief funding for those affected by Hurricane Harvey.
On Wednesday, Trump brought Senator Heidi Heitkamp with him on Air Force One to her home state of North Dakota, where Trump was set to deliver a speech on his tax reform plan. Those expecting Trump to use the speech as an opportunity to attack one of the most vulnerable Democrats in the Senate were surprised when Trump declined to attack Heitkamp, instead referring to her as “a good woman.”
Taken on their own, Trump’s actions could be viewed as an attempt to locate the missing-and-presumed-dead bipartisan spirit of Washington. However, bipartisanship typically requires a sense of cooperation between both parties; with this morning’s criticism of the GOP, Trump seems to have stuck a knife right through that possibility.
Trump’s first tweet urged Republicans once again to abolish the filibuster rule. This isn’t a new development; Trump has been calling for the end of the rule since his inauguration. What made the tweet eyebrow-raising was the fact that Trump prefaced his exhortation with a jab at the GOP’s repeated failures to repeal and/or replace Obamacare. (Speaking of which, sentient marionette Lindsey Graham is still trying to push his version of Obamacare repeal. You gotta love his unwavering commitment to defeat.)
Adding to that, reports The Hill, Trump alluded to the possibility that Senator Mitch McConnell might not keep his job as majority leader for much longer if the latter doesn’t deliver legislative victories to the former. I, for one, would not be sorry to see him go, because Mitch McConnell is an asshole.
McConnell isn’t alone, either; Trump also undercut House Majority Leader Paul Ryan, who had called Pelosi and Schumer’s proposal “ridiculous” and “unworkable” mere hours before Trump made a deal with the two Democrats. On the upside, though, we got to watch Paul Ryan attempt to criticize Democrats while simultaneously defending Trump’s decision to make a deal with them. A clever politician would struggle to thread that needle; Paul Ryan is not a clever politician.
Again, taken on its own, this would just be more of the same erratic behavior we’ve seen from Trump thus far; in the context of his deal with Pelosi and Schumer, however, the GOP is taking Trump’s recent behavior as evidence that the relationship between the party and its leader has reached a new low. For his part, Senator John McCain bemoaned the lack of respect Trump has shown GOP leaders. (This is your monthly reminder that John McCain cares more about the appearance of civility than the actual existence of it. The man would applaud Mussolini as long as he looked McCain in the eye and called him “Sir.”)
So… what the hell’s going on with Trump?
Between his election victory and his inauguration, there was a lot of theorizing that Trump wouldn’t be that bad, that his campaign-trail rhetoric was just to win an election, and that he’d take a much more moderate approach to governance once he took office. This, in part, is why media outlets have been impatiently waiting for the faintest sign that their predictions are beginning to align with reality.
This is not the dawn of A New Donald Trump. A Yugo doesn’t suddenly sprout power windows and Bluetooth capability just because we wish really hard that it’ll happen—it’s the same model we’ve been saddled with from the outset. Assuming this is a sign that the #Resistance is gaining momentum is not only folly, it’s dangerous. Remember, this is the same Trump who rescinded DACA; whose Muslim ban is still being fought in the courts; who pardoned the worst sheriff in America, then tried to hire the second-worst sheriff in America before common sense (and Chief of Staff John Kelly) intervened; and who could not find it within himself to condemn white supremacists and neo-Nazis.
Trump’s motivation here is simple: aside from his executive orders and the Supreme Court confirmation of Neil Gorsuch, he’s been the Do-Nothing President. He’s not suddenly aligned with liberal ideals; it’s that working with Democrats (who are a bit too eager to cooperate) presents, for the moment at least, the greatest opportunity for him to get something—anything—accomplished. And for the record, I mentioned this exact scenario in a podcast: if Trump thought he could get more praise and attention by embracing progressivism, he’d run to the left of Bernie Sanders so fast your head would spin.
If that means chucking McConnell and Ryan under the bus and buddying up to the left, then that’s exactly what he’ll do, but make no mistake: the moment he gets what he wants out of the exchange, he’ll happily skip right back across the aisle and ensconce himself once again in the clammy embrace of the GOP. Others do for Donald Trump; Donald Trump does not do for others.
Of course, it’s possible that I’m wrong, and the Trump Pivot for which we’ve all been waiting has finally arrived. I certainly wouldn’t mind a return to some semblance of normalcy. God knows we need it.