Another week, another group alienated by Trump. However, this time it’s one that probably no one saw coming: Breitbart.
That’s right, over dinner with “Chuck and Nancy” on Wednesday evening, reportedly, the initial outlines of a deal were achieved that would include legislating protections for the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program and “BIG” border security.
...They have been in our country for many years through no fault of their own - brought in by parents at young age. Plus BIG border security— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) September 14, 2017
Much has been discussed about Trump’s desire to get “wins” on the board. And that is certainly a good approach. There’s no doubt that there’s nothing better a president can do for his struggling presidency than get “wins” or deals. It provides a momentum all its own.
But it’s also what the American people want to see. Americans across the political spectrum want to see things get done in Washington D.C. — almost anything — particularly on issues that are viewed as no-brainers such as continuing to fund the government and protecting children, now young adults, who came to the United States of no fault of their own.
But Trump’s “dinners with Chuck and Nancy” may reflect a larger strategy. By going to war with everyone in Washington, D.C., Trump could be positioning himself as something more than a dealmaker. He is trying to become a legislative agenda-setting kingmaker.
After all, Trump now has something for everybody. For the liberal Democrats, he’s got DACA. For red-state Democrats, he’s got infrastructure. For fiscally conservative Republicans, he’s got tax reform (what Speaker Paul RyanPaul Davis RyanCheney takes shot at Trump: 'I like Republican presidents who win re-election' Cheney allies flock to her defense against Trump challenge Paul Ryan researched narcissistic personality disorder after Trump win: book MORE describes as a “once in a generation opportunity”). For GOP defense hawks, he’s got increasing military spending.
In Congress, the only way that legislation gets done year-after-year — such as the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) — is when it has something for everybody. We would call it “Christmas tree” legislation — an ornament for everyone.
So, Trump’s not an independent. He’s a Christmas tree, something for everyone.
But there is one group that could be truly damaged by Trump’s apparent legislative approach: Breitbart.
Trump’s dealmaking and kingmaking reveals that Breitbart is actually a new establishment. Many incorrectly assume that Trump’s base is ideologically motivated and monolithic. They are not. His actual base — the people who voted for Trump and remain committed to him — are for one thing: Trump. They will support Trump in anything he does as long as he disrupts the status quo, which he is doing.
For the “Trump establishment” — Bannon, Breitbart, and its coterie — Trump was just a vessel to push their agenda. They wanted him to fall in line and take orders. Trump likely knew that the Breitbart people were using him. My bet is that the Breitbart people are feeling used now. Their headlines on the “Chuck and Nancy” deals speak volumes:
Breitbart is in a risky position because they are getting exposed as something of an “establishment” within the Trump base. The anti-establishment, establishment. (And perhaps it is a smart move for Trump to knock out his future media company’s competition now.)
So, is the only anti-establishment person in national politics, in fact, Trump?
In any case, being sufficiently anti-establishment isn’t advantageous in the long run as president. It is not a governing philosophy and doesn’t scramble the coalitions — it confuses them.
Trump’s approach ultimately is not sustainable for two terms. Which raises a fundamental strategic question for Trump and his political brand.
Trump will have to either settle on an ideology and governing philosophy, or he will have to decide that he came to D.C. to break up the status quo, in whatever time he has in his term, and then go home to New York City to build out his new political party and media company.
At this point, my bet is on the latter.
Alex Gallo served as a professional staff member on the House Armed Services Committee. He is a West Point graduate, a combat veteran, and a graduate of the Harvard Kennedy School. His work has been published by The Washington Post, National Review The Huffington Post, The Hill and Foreign Affairs. You can find him on on Twitter @AlexGalloUSA.