In the wake of RepubliCare wiping out last week, President Trump today tweeted something about going after the Democrats AND the Freedom Caucus in 2018 if the conservative Republicans didn’t “get on the team.” Of course the media did an instant 180 degree turn and began both praising this move on President Trump’s part and salivating over the prospect of the President moving to work with the Democrats. Paul Ryan, in one of his more cogent statements of recent memory, stated in a press briefing that (as I posted earlier this week) getting Democrats to help repeal WhatshisnameCare is just not going to happen. The GOP conference is 90% there.
At first glance this looks to be a major disappointment, as the dinosaur media gleefully proclaims that President Trump has declared war on the Tea Party type Republicans and I’m sure zombie NeverTrumpers are on the march mumbling “we tolllld you sooooo…” So let’s start off by remembering some important things. First, we wouldn’t have a budget on the table that guts the NEA, PBS, the EPA, and scores of other leftist sacred cows without President Trump. We would not have the Cabinet we have without President Trump, we would not be on the fast track to Keystone (and it’s about time too) without President Trump, we would not be looking at Justice Neil Gorsuch in a little over a week without President Trump, we would not have just obliterated the ridiculous “Clean Power Plan” without President Trump, and that’s just the first few I can think of off the top of my head. Claiming that the Freedom Caucus is “holding up” a lot of President Trump’s campaign promises is asinine. Claiming that this renders the president a “failure” is equally absurd. Remember that WhatshisnameCare didn’t pass on the first try either–even with a filibuster-proof supermajority in the Senate they didn’t get it done until late in the year.
Still, to Cruz supporters-turned-Trump backers like me, this is unsettling. I’m not going to claim that everything is sunshine and roses about this move and I do not discount the possibility, however small, that a few executive orders might have been a head fake to lull President Trump’s potential right-leaning critics into a false sense of trust. I don’t think that’s what’s going on here, though. Many commentators have stated that President Trump is not ideological, and they’re correct (even though many of his supporters like myself are ideological). However, claiming or believing that the President is blind to the divides in Washington either presumes gross stupidity or willful ignorance. Of course the dinosaur media and the NeverTrump crowd alike are swooningly happy to apply either of those labels to President Trump, but anyone who lives in the real world and doesn’t think the President is literally Hitler knows neither comes even close to fitting. As a matter of fact, the evidence points to a conclusion that the President is not only highly intelligent, but is a master at both dealmaking and manipulation.
I think there’s some three-dimensional chess at work here. The President has proved to be adept at outmaneuvering his adversaries at every turn, even when he yields a little ground to do it. I did a lot of debate in college and always found it to be an effective strategy to first control the direction of the argument, then evade the point that your opponent will expect you to defend, even if it means ceding holy ground to the other side. The point is you never let the enemy set the terms of the fight or pick the battleground. Throw curve balls until they’ll never expect a heater right up the strike zone.
When it comes down to it, the Freedom Caucus is Trump’s biggest single constituency and ought to be his loudest cheerleaders. If he’s doing this to set up a scenario wherein he makes it look like he brought them to heel or tried his best to do something “bipartisan” because voters are so conditioned to think that “getting along” is a virtue, he may yet accomplish something far greater than just repealing and replacing WhatshisnameCare by the time we get finished here. He may succeed in damaging if not outright breaking the dinosaur media’s stereotype of Republicans as obstructionists and flip that on the Democrats, by drawing the dinosaur media in to the field he wants to fight on, then showing that he was able to get the mean evil hard-right conservatives to play nicely but gollygoshdarnitall, those crybaby Democrats still wouldn’t budge no matter what he tried.
I for one am watching cautiously but have not yet lost faith. I’ll admit I’m wrong and misplaced my hopes when and if that becomes clear (I’m a lifelong Republican, we’re kinda used to it). But for now, don’t stop believin’. This could be bigger than we imagine.