Trump’s debt deal puts an end to politics as usual in Washington

Trump’s debt deal puts an end to politics as usual in Washington
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President Trump shook the foundations of Washington last week by turning on Republicans in Congress and accepting a deal from congressional Democrats to raise the debt ceiling and fund the government for three months, setting up a brutal year-end fiscal cliff.

Democrats, Politico reported, were gleeful. Republicans were, in turn, stunned, shell-shocked, and jolted.

Trump, it seems, has pivoted.

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Or has he? With a president as mercurial and unpredictable as Trump, divining meaning in what appears at times to be sheer impulsiveness is hard and perhaps futile work.

 

That said, Trump’s recent turnabout is not without instruction — particularly for conservatives as they seek to remain an influential part of the president’s decision making.

First and foremost, Trump is a pragmatic dealmaker. He is not driven by ideology, a commitment to principle, or, as we learned last week, party loyalty. Give him a scenario that solves his most current problem — and, better yet, the ability to deliver the votes to get it done — and he’ll take it.

Consider the two choices Trump faced when it came to the debt ceiling deal.

Align with his party, who has failed to deliver on literally anything they promised to do in January, despite unified government and years of preparation, and who came in with a plan on which their conference was far from unified. 

Or throw his lot in with “Chuck and Nancy,” consummate dealmakers whom the president personally trusts, and who assured the president that their proposal would pass overwhelmingly — solving, albeit temporarily, a major legislative crisis (of Congress’s own making).

Congressman Jim Jordan (R-Ohio) articulated the issue precisely when he told Bloomberg News, “frankly, what options did the president have in front of him?”

His House colleague Mark Meadows (R-N.C.) offered a similar sentiment, “there was not a conservative option on the debt ceiling that was offered to the president.” Trump, Meadows said, had to choose between “no deal and a bad deal.”

The lesson for conservatives, and for GOP leadership, is clear – if they want to influence this president, they must have a plan. That plan must be thought out and prepared in advance. It must have the votes to pass. And they must be ready to fight for it.

House Speaker Paul RyanPaul Davis RyanDem: Ex-lawmaker tried to pin me to elevator door and kiss me Two months later: Puerto Rico doesn’t have power, education or economy running again On Capitol Hill, few name names on sexual harassment MORE (R-Wis.) and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellAlabama election has GOP racing against the clock McConnell PAC demands Moore return its money Klobuchar taking over Franken's sexual assault bill MORE (R-Ky.) have rested on their laurels since January, failing to deliver on anything the President has requested, but assuming he will support their agenda because conventional wisdom says the leader of their party will, ultimately, always side with them. That once-reliable truism is no longer. 

This is the second point conservatives should draw from Trump’s pivot: The Trump era is a post-party era. The party system – the automatic assumptions about fealty, loyalty, and resourcing from anyone labeled “Republican” – is, at least for now, largely irrelevant.

Trump’s base, his election, even his policy priorities, reflect an amalgamation that is not Republican, not Democrat, but purely Trumpian.

Put another way, a recent poll showed Trump has a 98 percent approval rating among Republicans who voted for him in both the primary and the general. Congressional leadership, on the other hand, is as unpopular as ever, with just four in 10 Republicans approving of the job Republican congressional leaders are doing.

Party affiliation, at least for now, means far less than the ability to deliver on decades-old campaign promises, reject the status quo, and, frankly, just get things done.

Finally, the fact that the GOP — which has known about this debt limit deadline since last year — still showed up to the Oval Office without a plan for passage is itself instructive in its redundancy.

Time and time again, the GOP leadership has concocted a scheme behind closed doors, and at the last minute dumped it on their conference while demanding that they fall into line. And time and time again, that strategy has failed.

According to Rep. Jordan, House Republicans met just once to discuss the debt ceiling — the day before congressional leaders went to the Oval to pitch their ideas.

It’s reminiscent of the process that led to the spectacular failure to repeal Obamacare earlier this year, where GOP leadership went to pains to keep the repeal text a secret from the rest of the conference.

Can you guess how this will go if leadership tries the same strategy on tax reform?

House and Senate leadership must formulate a new working relationship with their conference – one that is inclusive, receptive, and transparent. Show members text of the draft legislation. Garner input and respond accordingly. Allow an open floor process. In short, let the legislators legislate.

Less than a year into his term, Trump has re-written the rules of Washington. Those who seek to influence him moving forward would be wise to evolve accordingly – or quickly be made irrelevant.

Rachel Bovard (@Rachel_Bovard) is the senior director of policy for The Conservative Partnership, a nonprofit group headed by former South Carolina Sen. Jim DeMint aimed at promoting limited government.