This week, President Trump let the entire world know that New York’s Charles SchumerChuck SchumerHospitals in underserved communities face huge cuts in reckless 'Build Back Better' plan GOP infighting takes stupid to a whole new level Progressive groups urge Schumer to prevent further cuts to T plan MORE and California’s Nancy Pelosi are the king and queen of Capitol Hill. Paul RyanPaul Davis RyanNo time for the timid: The dual threats of progressives and Trump Juan Williams: Pelosi shows her power Cheney takes shot at Trump: 'I like Republican presidents who win re-election' MORE may wield the House speaker’s gavel and Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellDemocrats livid over GOP's COVID-19 attacks on Biden US could default within weeks absent action on debt limit: analysis The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Facebook - Congress avoids shutdown MORE may be surrounded by a praetorian guard of aging white men in expensive suits known as the Senate leadership, but it’s the Democratic dynamic duo that is punching above their weight.
Ryan and McConnell have every reason to be appalled by the president’s gut punch, as he sided with the Democrats by agreeing to coupling Harvey aid to a three-month debt ceiling increase and spending resolution, which will run out just before Christmas. But neither congressman has good reason to be surprised.
But the bond between Trump and Schumer is more than just about both guys who grew up in New York City’s outer boroughs, Queens and Brooklyn, respectively. Rather, it’s about cultural affinity and winning. In the case of Trump, Schumer and Pelosi, the two things go hand in hand. Let’s take a walk down memory lane to a time before Stephen Bannon was Trump’s campaign guru, when Kellyanne Conway was trashing Trump to whomever would listen.
Back then, in April 2016, things were looking iffy for Trump. He had lost contests in North Dakota, Wisconsin, Colorado and Wyoming. The early luster that Trump showed in New Hampshire, Super Tuesday and the Southeast primaries had worn thin. But then something happened, the April 19 New York primary, and the April 26 Acela primaries, battles in which Northeast, Catholic and ethnic Republicans could make their voices heard and their votes counted.
Did they ever. Trump romped to landslide victories in New York, and did so again a week later in Connecticut, Delaware, Maryland, Pennsylvania and Rhode Island, with non-evangelical Christians playing the deciding role. In New York, they were more than three-quarters of primary voters, and they went for Trump by more than 60 percent. In Maryland, non-evangelicals made up nearly three in five Republican primary voters, and in turn, they went for Trump three to two. In other words, culture counted.
Which brings me back to Trump, Schumer and Pelosi. On Election Day last fall, Trump voters had little difficulty voting to reelect the Senate minority leader. Schumer won re-election with 70 percent of the vote, and he did so by making serious inroads with Catholic, white working class, Independent and Republican voters.
Schumer captured 72 percent of the Catholic vote, and better than five in nine among whites without college degrees. He also won two-thirds of Independents, and more than a quarter of Republicans. That’s called building a coalition, something Ryan and McConnell have always seemed too busy to do.
To be sure, the Trump-Schumer voter, like the Sanders-Trump voter, is not an Ayn Rand fan. Unalloyed notions of the free market are not what they’re about. They care about jobs and paychecks. They may have a retirement account, but as a rule, these folks aren’t day traders. Work matters.
According to the numbers, the 2016 electorate’s sweet spot was populist, conservative leaning on cultural issues and less so on economics and jobs. Practically speaking for Trump, that meant getting disaster aid to Texas, keeping government running and preventing a default on America’s debt, which would have also put a halt to Social Security checks going out.
For Trump, Schumer and Pelosi, all this was a no-brainer, at least this week. But for Republican legislators, it was a bitter pill. McConnell went out in front on the television cameras looking like he had been forced to eat a plate of broccoli, while Ryan was reportedly furious. Indeed, to add insult to injury, Ivanka walked in on her “daddy’s” meeting with the congressional leadership. Schumer may have been smiling, but the Republicans in the room were not.
In the aftermath of this debacle, congressional Republicans need to ask themselves whether blind devotion to the Kochs, the Club for Growth and the Heritage Foundation is the best way to retain their hold on the reins of power. As for Trump, he reminded everyone that first and foremost he is the Donald, ideology is an expedient and the GOP is merely a vehicle for his ambitions and agenda.
Still for Trump, this a game with risks, one that may even come with the “I” word in the end. The less relevant the Republicans look, the more likely that the GOP loses the House and Trump’s newfound friend Pelosi will be speaker come January 2019. This week, Trump won a huge battle, but his war is far from over.
Lloyd Green was the opposition research counsel to the George H.W. Bush campaign in 1988 and later served in the U.S. Department of Justice.
The views expressed by contributors are their own and are not the views of The Hill.