I’ve seen and heard recently a number of supporters of President Trump grumbling that he has no business making deals with Democrats over DACA, and needs to “build the wall” along the US-Mexico border, rather than just talking about it. They view his deals with Democrats as a betrayal of his preelection promises.
To them I can only say: have you forgotten the nature of our constitutional system of government? The President may propose policy, but only Congress and the Senate can pass laws to implement those policies – and despite having Republican majorities in both bodies, the Republican Party has steadfastly refused to get behind the President’s policy initiatives. He can’t get Republicans to do what he wants them to do. The “old guard”, the “denizens of the swamp”, still control the Stupid Party, and they’re not about to let “that upstart Trump” spoil their fun.
President Trump finds himself at an impasse. He’s been elected to do what he promised, but those who have to implement what he promised are refusing to do so. He has three choices right now.
- He can abandon his pre-election promises and policies.
- He can try to work within the system, attracting what bipartisan support he can for those policies that can be passed under the present impasse, and postponing those that simply aren’t feasible, given current legislators.
- He can try to assist the election of legislators who will work with him, rather than against him, to implement his policies.
I think President Trump won’t even consider the first option; so he’s employing a combination of the second and third approaches. He’s willing to work with anyone in Congress – even the Democratic Party – to accomplish what is politically feasible at the moment. That does not include the border wall, because he can’t muster enough votes to pass a law funding it. He’s stymied. On the other hand, by agreeing to certain points that are important to Democrats, such as DACA, he can gain their votes to support other measures that are important to him. It’s a give-and-take situation. He’s making the most of what he can get.
At the same time, he’s unashamedly campaigning for a better set of legislators with whom to work. I think his intervention in the Arizona Senate race for 2018 is a “shot across the bows” to Republicans. He’s demonstrating that if they won’t play ball with him, he’ll actively seek to replace them with others who will. I have no doubt he’ll repeat his intervention in the constituencies of other legislators who are actively seeking to undermine his agenda. Why shouldn’t he? He has nothing to lose – and everything to gain.
I think the Republican Party establishment has a tiger by the tail. It hates and loathes President Trump because he’s not “one of them”. He’s an outsider who’s upset their comfortable arrangements and carefully-plotted deals. However, he has the power of the Presidency behind him, and unquestionably is more popular with the electorate than either Congress or the Senate. If they alienate him, he’ll probably use that popularity to strike back at them with those on whose votes they have so far relied. Can he swing enough votes away from establishment candidates to further entrench “the power of the people”? He clearly thinks he can – and I think the establishment would be unwise to wager that he can’t.
I think President Trump would like nothing better than to “build the wall”. Unfortunately, given the active opposition he’s encountering in Congress and the Senate right now, that looks to be politically impossible at present. I won’t criticize him for not doing the impossible. Instead, I’ll watch carefully to see what he does next. This man is known for deal-making. He’s proved that in business over decades, and every time he’s been down, he bounced right back up. I’m willing to bet he’s already planning to do the same in the political world.
What’s more, he has the perfect excuse for lack of progress on the border wall. He can tell his supporters the truth – that he can’t get it done without the support of Congress and the Senate – and then urge them to use their votes, and their voices within the Republican Party and its primary process, to elect representatives and Senators who’ll provide that support. That might happen within the context of the existing two-party system, or it might upend that system and bring in a populist uprising that may expand it, as Angelo Codevilla has suggested (which we examined earlier this week).
Either way, that will mean kicking out many of those who are currently obstructing President Trump. That should worry the incumbents, and the party establishment, very much. It certainly would me, if I were in their shoes.