The president should be working to unite his adoptive party. Instead, he is intensifying the split.
Battles looming in Congress and how they play out have the potential to be a defining period in Donald Trump’s presidency, yet Trump is doing little to bring his adoptive party together and, in recent days, has only intensified his efforts to deepen a divide between himself and the very people he needs to help push his agenda forward.
Trump this week continued his Twitter attack on Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, a man who, while not well-liked among Democrats, is nonetheless respected across party lines for his ability to get things done. Alienating McConnell, like Trump’s ill-fated attempt to Tweet-shame Attorney General Jeff Sessions into resigning, will only backfire. Senators from both parties came together to warn Trump to lay off Sessions, a former Senator, and many will do the same for McConnell if Trump keeps up his attacks.
McConnell and his counterpart in the House, Speaker Paul Ryan, face some big hurdles when Congress returns from its August break. Raising the debt ceiling and getting the budget done will be the top priorities, but even with majorities in both the House and Senate, getting enough people on the same page has proven elusive for the Republicans so far this year.
A big part of the problem is the hard line extremists on the right who built their reputation on not compromising. That worked out fine for them when Democrats were in the majority. Republicans in the minority were more than happy to jump on board any right-wing proposal, safe in the knowledge that it would never come to pass. But as seen with the many failed attempts at repealing the Affordable Care Act, when it comes down to actual governing and getting things done, saying you will not compromise is pretty much the same as killing any effort at reform, no matter what the issue, because all those moderates who said they would join you when there was no chance of your bill passing have second thoughts about it when the bill might pass.
Health care is just one example. These same folks have held the debt ceiling hostage – even to the point of the nation’s credit rating being downgraded – under President Barack Obama. And they have routinely thrown roadblocks into the path of budget talks. By all accounts they will likely continue their obstinate ways this time, even as more moderates in the party are lining up against them.
With two distinct factions at play in one party, it would take a strong leader to bring both sides to the table to hammer out compromises. Trump, however, has not done this so far. And in fact he continues to distance himself from the so-called “establishment” Republicans like McConnell.
This type of behavior will only serve to prompt Republicans to look toward Democrats for the votes they need to pass legislation. And doing that will raise the ire of the tea partiers on the right who continue to make demands and refuse any form of compromise.
Tea partiers don’t have anywhere near a majority. Their platform is and always has been one of empty opposition with no plan to move the nation forward as an alternative. While mainstream Republicans may have gone along with them when the party was in the minority, they aren’t going to go along with them now.
Congress today is essentially split into thirds, comprised of Democrats, Republicans and Republican-In-Name-Only tea partiers. On health care, common sense prevailed when Republicans put forward a plan that not only did not make things better, but in fact made them far worse for millions of Americans. Had they, in their seven years of voting to repeal Obamacare, come up with an alternative, it is likely it would have passed. But they had no alternative.
Likewise, the extremists on the right have no realistic path forward on debt ceiling discussions or the coming fiscal year’s budget. They just want cuts. No matter who it might hurt.
Trump should be spending his hard-earned vacation working with Republicans on the right and in the middle to come up with plans for moving the nation forward. Instead, he is deepening the divide, essentially pushing moderate Republicans toward the Democrats, just as they did with health care, and just as they did when the parties came together to limit Trump’s ability to alter Russian sanctions.
Trump’s base is already shrinking. He has historically low approval ratings. And he has a tendency to attack anyone who dares suggest there may be a better way to get things done – even if it means attacking his staunchest supporters. In that environment, establishment Republicans have little reason to work with the president, or the more extreme members of their own party, and every reason to work with Democrats in order to build a record of accomplishments that move the country forward.
Trump’s relevancy will be put to the test when Congress returns. And the outcome may well define the remainder of his term.
Jim Lee is Editor for GateHouse Media Delaware. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.