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Thus far Donald Trump, elected as a Republican, has placed Republican choice Neil Gorsuch on the Supreme Court; shown traditional Republican contempt for Big Government by dismantling several federal departments via neglect and sabotage; proposed to fulfill the Republican pledge to end DACA and attempted, however ineptly, to fulfill the Republican pledge to repeal Obamacare; and in general done everything a Republican president could be expected to do, and then some.
But last weekend Trump cut a deal with the House and Senate minority leaders, Nancy Pelosi and Chuck Schumer, to postpone the annual federal debt ceiling crisis for three months, so we were told that Trump isn’t really a Republican after all. This opinion was expressed not only by rightbloggers and other conservative pundits — who were divided as to whether this was a bad thing or a good thing — but also by the New York Times and other MSM outlets.
Exploiting the debt ceiling struggle has been a Republican form of anti–Big Gummint chest-beating for years, and everyone knows — especially since 2013, when Ted Cruz shit the bed with his attempted government shutdown — that after a little nipple twisting they eventually cave and let the business of the nation go forward.
Trump (or at least his handlers) apparently understood this too, and so cut his debt ceiling deal quickly with Pelosi and Schumer rather than play ring-around-the-rosy with GOP leaders Mitch McConnell and Paul Ryan.
Conservatives of the old-fashioned kind were miffed. Referring to simpler times when Trump gratuitously insulted rather than cooperated with Democrats, National Review’s Rich Lowry sighed, “I Liked It Better When Chuck Schumer Was a Clown.”
“You’re lashing out against your own party?” howled radio shouter Mark Levin at Trump. “Working with Pelosi and Schumer? They’re very evil!” “Donald Trump got played like a grand piano by the political duo of Salieri Schumer and Pelosi The Great,” griped Jay Caruso at RedState.
At National Review, Jonah Goldberg revived the old NeverTrump wheeze that Trump was never One of Us. “The former New York Democrat holds no deep love for ideological conservatism,” he said, “and many of his favorite issues — protectionism, infrastructure, etc. — are more naturally part of the Democratic portfolio.” (And one of these days he’ll actually do something about those things and show us all.)
“The American people may think they elected a Republican government last November, but it’s increasingly hard to tell,” said the Wall Street Journal editorial board. “Is [Trump] trying to elect Speaker Pelosi?”
Nebraska GOP senator and NeverTrump cover boy Ben Sasse denounced the deal but endeavored to leave Trump’s name out of the indictment. He told the Senate, Schumer “just made himself the most powerful man in America for the month of December,” as if the effort were unassisted. He issued a press release saying, “Chuck Schumer wrote the art of the steal,” and bade his fellow Republicans “reject Schumer’s deal.”
Despite the Conscience of Conservatism’s hard line, 33 out of 50 Senate Republicans supported the bill. The Weekly Standard then told readers the Trump-Pelosi-Schumer debt ceiling plan “Will Find More Resistance in the House” — whereupon 133 out of 223 House Republicans supported the bill. That’s a pretty good show of loyalty for a president who’s not even in their party.
Not all conservatives were sad, though — in fact, the most hardcore were the ones most likely to welcome the rapprochement with the hated Democrats: Trump Train–riding opportunists, aware of the Trumpian turn of their knuckle-dragging constituents, approved the Schumer-Pelosi deal because it gave their God Emperor something more like a win than a catastrophe, proving his infallibility.
At the Federalist, Ben Domenech cheered, “President Trump’s pivot is real, and it’s spectacular.… The fact is that the Republican Party has been the party of Trump for a lot longer than Washington thinks. It has been a politically and socially populist party that was not libertarian in any economic sense for quite some time.” Now he tells us!
At American Greatness, Mike Sabo said the bargain showed Trump “the dealmaker-in-chief he promised to be on the campaign trail,” and promised he would sweep all naysayers before him to “drain a swamp that has engulfed everything it touches” with the help of his fellow populists Steve Mnuchin and Rex Tillerson.
At Breitbart — the death star from which Steve Bannon, you may have heard from credulous reporters, is supposed to be #WARring on Trump — Joel B. Pollak said that, despite the “NeverTrump bitter-enders” who “are shrieking ‘I told you so!’ on social media,” Trump was actually “WINNING” because now “PELOSI, SCHUMER ARE ‘NORMALIZING’ DONALD TRUMP” by working with him; the Democrats had “declared that he is a reasonable person who can be dealt with, not a crazy dictator who must be removed.” Put away those pussy hats, ladies!
Elsewhere, Pollak went further, claiming that thanks to the deal a new Golden Age had begun: “Amidst all the worrying about how divided our country is, a new feeling is beginning to emerge, a sense of a society and a government that are actually working.… How ironic that the great ‘disruptor’ of our political system is turning out to be the leader who is restoring it — and, soon, public faith in it.”
Well, fortunately for Pollak, he only has to convince the people dumb enough to read him on a regular basis. But what, then, might be the excuse for the mainstream media types who came to a similar conclusion?
On Saturday, the New York Times published Peter Baker’s “Bound to No Party, Trump Upends 150 Years of Two-Party Rule.” Baker declared Trump “the first independent to hold the presidency since the advent of the current two-party system around the time of the Civil War” on the strength of the Pelosi-Schumer deal, some third-way feints Trump had made over the years, and, oh yeah, quotes from guys like Ben Domenech.
Multiple mainstreamers cleaved to this new reality.
“Trump turning against the Republican Party should be no surprise to anyone,” tweeted Axios national reporter Jonathan Swan. “He’s not a Republican. & he flagged in his inaugural address/that his presidency would be in direct opposition to Congress and the very concept of political parties. Ppl seem to have forgotten that.”
What people actually may have forgotten was that Trump’s inaugural rant was a nightmare vision of citizens trapped in a hellscape of “American carnage” from which Donald Trump had been consecrated to rescue them; notwithstanding its brief bipartisan boilerplate, it was as much a refutation of the “very concept of political parties” as “Kneel before Zod” in Superman II.
ABC News political analyst Matthew Dowd had one mild objection to Baker’s “first independent president” claim: “I would say Eisenhower was one.” “It seems at least plausible that Trump could run for re-election — and win — as a 3rd party candidate,” one-upped Daily Beast author and CNN commentator Matt K. Lewis.
“The Trump who’s emerged in full this past week,” wrote Ken Thomas and Catherine Lucey for the Associated Press, was “Trump the independent. A president who spent months catering to the Republican conservative wing now appears unbound by ideology and untethered by party allegiances.”
It’s almost like Trump became a different person — just like after his first speech to Congress, when everyone said he really became president.
More cynical observers pointed out that the congressional Republicans with whom Trump allegedly had little in common voted with Trump 94 percent of the time, and in fact continue to protect him from exposure and possible prosecution, and that Trump’s actions were more likely to be guided by naked self-interest than by contrarian strategy. The absurdity of the idea that this solipsistic grifter has anything besides genetic makeup in common with Eisenhower, or any other previous president, is clear after a moment of thought.
Which is why the media endeavors to keep their audience from ever getting that moment of thought and perhaps stretching it into a fact pattern. Focus is a ratings killer; an unrelenting account of Trump’s steady destruction of the Republic would turn off some viewers as “media bias,” and others as depressing. But record-scratch changeups like the deal with the Democrats turns the news into a fun-filled Choose Your Own Adventure: Maybe he’s really Eisenhower! Maybe he’s Lincoln! Or maybe he’s a Russian agent! Maybe he’ll kill us all!
The trick is to keep them watching, but prevent them from paying attention — which, curiously, is Trump’s trick, too.