There are more than enough people this week offering insight and analysis on the Pelosi-Schumer-Trump deal and how it undercut Republicans; I don’t think adding to the chorus of “what an amazing turn of events” columns would be a really groundbreaking point of view to share this morning.
On the other hand, I don’t want to be completely unhelpful, so I figured I’d write an open letter to Republicans about how in the world they survive, much less win elections again, in this strange new environment. So here it is.
You’ve backed yourselves into quite a corner, haven’t you? You underestimated Trump’s populist techniques to your detriment, making the other primary candidates take silly loyalty oaths to support WHOEVER the nominee was in an attempt to trap Mr. Trump, but instead you merely ensured that to not back him yourselves once he became the nominee would hurt your credibility. I can’t say for certain that he’s clever enough to have played you like a fiddle, but if he had, the results would’ve been the same.
For a while, you only needed to pretend to support him since all indicators were that he would lose the election. You’d give hedged comments that would be easy to backtrack on after he lost. You thought “Eh, I can survive until November and then we can focus our energy on opposing President Clinton.”
But you were wrong. As I’ve said before, it was not a question of underestimating or not understanding Trump for who he is. Trump is nothing if not entirely predictable. Of course, he’s paradoxically chaotic, but that tendency of his to say the unexpected is still predictable. You may not know WHAT he would say. But you could be certain he would say SOMETHING that will make you hide under your desk.
It was the American people — their mood, their anger, their desire for something fresh –that was what you underestimated. That was the variable in this election. But regardless, there you were: stuck now not only with having to pretend you thought Trump was the second coming of Reagan, but having to figure out how the hell to work with a guy that is so chaotic.
The initial plan is what played out for the first several months of the administration. Play to his ego by leaking embarrassing things to the press in the hopes that public shaming would change how he approaches things, all the while giving him ideas on how to be more “presidential” to push the agenda he had promised.
But of course, that didn’t work. It couldn’t work. That’s not the kind of shame that works on Trump. The more the leaks embarrassed him, the more he was certain the “establishment” was behind it, the more convinced he became that he must destroy you.
The worst possible outcome, obviously. Because destroying you means destroying your agenda, and destroying your agenda means going straight to the Democrats to undercut you, and that’s exactly what happened. You want out of this? Then you need to give up on the idea that you will ever get what you want while Trump is president. At least on purpose. Trump happened to give Republicans some cabinet picks and a Supreme Court nominee that they could be happy about. But this was incidental and easy. The lowest of low-hanging fruit. Obamacare repeal? A border wall? These and perhaps even tax cuts are probably just dreams at this point.
As long as Donald Trump is president and as long as Republican politicians care about being reelected, enacting his agenda as stated during the campaign is simply too toxic. He has shown no ability to sell it to the American people following the election. He has shown no ability to get along with the people he needs to get on board for the agenda to pass. And as bitterness and vengeance starts becoming his motivation, he will move more and more towards forcing you to bend the knee.
Of course, bending the knee won’t do anything. The damage of his toxicity is already done. The base is in a frenzy, the democrats are rending garments daily, if you bend the knee now you’ll just be right back where you started. A stalled agenda mired by chaos and madness surrounding a maniac who can’t get out of his own way. Trump can’t handle the way the press treats the conservative agenda. And so no matter what, he will always trot out as an agenda item is being pushed, and dump all over it with his usual brand of outlandish nonsense because he’s super mad at “fake news.” Democrat support will remain non-existent and Trump will continue to make simple things so toxic that even Republicans who might have agreed won’t get on board and whatever is being proposed will die in the Senate. The conservative agenda would remain out of reach while he blamed you all the way to the day you lose your election. Working with him on enacting the agenda he campaigned on will end your career or at least taint it to such a degree that it’s hard to imagine you will ever be separated from your support of him even after he’s gone.
So what could work?
We could publicly distance ourselves from Trump, let him work with Democrats on his own, and stop any legislation he works out with Democrats since we have the numbers?
Sure, you could do that. It would probably be the most principled route. But optically? You guys would become more toxic than Trump himself. The Democrats could even start taking his side publicly. His penchant for “saying whatever he thinks” would start to become “The Democrats were right, Republicans ARE racist.” That will certainly play well in campaign season. And losing elections going forward is a surefire way to make sure a conservative agenda never sees the light of day again.
Ok, then maybe the answer is to try to cut deals with him the way the Democrats do? Better deals?
Hi, did you just get here? That’s what you already tried. Unfortunately the reality you are contending with is that the Democrats have the media mostly on their side. No matter how super awesome your conservative agenda is, Trump the maniac will give the press and the Democrats everything they need to tar every item on your list as poisonous, fascist, or worse. Again, that will play GREAT in campaign season.
If I thought Trump would stop dumpster-fire-ing everything that hit his plate from Republicans, I’d say this is a good plan. Unfortunately, as has been shown over and over and over and over, that’s just not going to happen. Donald Trump does not change.
So what is the answer?
Stop thinking of the Democrats as your opponent. Start thinking of Donald Trump as your opponent.
Because Donald Trump is your opponent in every sense of the word. Your agendas are not aligned. Your tactics are not coordinated. He throws you under the bus at every turn. He publicizes your private conversations. He works with your political adversaries in an effort to make you look foolish. He openly begs voters to turn on you. I mean, he basically won the election by telling everyone how horrible you are.
If you don’t realize that Donald Trump is your opponent you are living in denial.
Stop thinking you can work with him and start thinking you have to manipulate and undercut him. There is no version of current events where Republicans come out on top with their great and fearless leader, Donald Trump. That option does not exist.
Consider this “deal” he cut with the Democrats. How could you have stopped that? How could you have prevented such a blatant undercutting of the party by its own leader? How could you have saved yourselves from looking so foolish?
Simple: You had to undercut him. You had to go to the Democrats first. Make the deal, publicize it, bring it to the president. If he feels betrayed, let him say it. That’s what opponents do. In a perfect world you could’ve fought tooth & nail for what you knew conservatives would want, but clearly Trump interferes with that perfect world, so stop playing along.
This is your answer to the question that I’m surprised has to be asked. What is the Republican plan that was derailed by Trump’s actions? The Republican plan that was derailed was that the Republicans got to make a plan. And so the answer to how to prevent that derailment in the future is to stop looking at Trump like he’s part of the process, go straight to the democrats and plop whatever you two come up with on Mr. Trump’s desk.
Stop worrying about Breitbart News calling you RINOs, stop worrying about twitter, stop worrying even about getting the conservative agenda passed. It won’t pass right now.
Fight for what you can fight for when you can fight for it. But in a battle between Democrat interests and Trump interests, stop thinking you have an obligation to side with Trump. You have zero obligation to side with your main opponent.
I really am sorry this is where we are. I’m sorry that we finally controlled both houses and the Oval Office, but, just like 2004, the opportunity will be squandered. I’m sorry that years of Republican outrage-mongering led to us nominating and then helping to elect a carnival barking buffoon, but it IS where we are. Denying it changes nothing.
You want to stop looking so awful and heading to oblivion? Then stop with this silly this game of pretending Trump is on “your side.” Wake up. Face reality. And do what’s necessary to get through these next 4 years.
We may have made this monster, but we are under no obligation to follow him.