President Trump is nothing if not sometimes surprising. He proved that again today by agreeing a Democratic plan to extend the debt ceiling for only 3 months in exchange for money for flood relief. Republican leaders had wanted a longer extension of perhaps 18 months. Democrats have gotten something in exchange for keeping the government open – which they clearly wanted anyway.
It appears to set the Democrats in a position to use the same leverage in December to wind more benefits for their constituencies. The Republican leaders now are not on the same page as the President. Much of the conservative establishment is upset as well. So one can see the downside of this move.
Is there an upside? Maybe.
I think Mr. Trump is still smarting from his experience with Obamacare. He never misses a chance to point to how the GOP leadership couldn’t deliver a plan to replace Obamacare and the votes to enact it as well. The majority was to splintered and plagued by those unwilling to take a half a loaf to legislate. I think Mr. Trump feared a small contingent of far right Republicans would make it impossible to pass the debt extension. He didn’t trust the same old team to perform better, and wanted to try something different. He fired his Republican legislative team in a way. We all know that Donald Trump loves to say: “you’re fired”.
This really seems unsurprising given the Presidant’s history. He had taken a number of unconservative positions, such as supporting abortion rights and single-payer health insurance, before he was a candidate. Even during the campaign he was distinguished by support of social security. In general, Donald Trump really doesn’t seem to have a strong ideological rooting in conservatism. He is more of big state nationalist (big military, regulation of Trade, even more so immigration). At worst he a tribalist.
Will this work for him? It may be a route he can use in the future. It may make congressional Republicans quicker to deliver to avoid being abandoned for the Democrates. Much has been made of alienation of Mr. Trump’s base. I think that’s overblown. I think Trump’s base is mostly bored by the debt ceiling issue and tax and spending issues. Maybe they should be as at the end of the day the debt ceiling was going to be increased as required by the budget and taxes already arrived. Setting a debt ceiling makes no sense in fact and at the end doesn’t really matter much.
Trump’s base is much more motivated by immigration issues and and their anxiety about social issues like immigration, and tough cops. Maybe DACA being rescinded was to keep the based fired up after the debt ceiling decision dropped. I think professional conservatives are upset, but the base is not. Trump relationship with Washington conservatives has never been that close.
Finally the move can be called a move to bipartisanship. In short this still could be a smart move. There is a final downside though. I have wondered if on healthcare Trump could make a push for singlepayer with the Democrats. This would diminish or eliminate Obamacare, and people would no longer think of Obama as the man who increased access to healthcare.
On the other hand, impeachment might be more possible as well. Iif the Russia investigation continues and results in something damning, the Trump ace in the hole is that his party controls congress and is not going to impeach one would assume. If the GOP congress is angry enough this might no longer be true.