President Donald Trump speaks during a cabinet meeting at the White House, Monday, Oct. 16, 2017, in Washington, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, left, and Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis, right, listen. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)
Over the weekend, former presidential adviser Steve Bannon basically threatened to mount a primary challenge against any member of Congress that had been insufficiently deferential to Trump. This is sort of a joke because for months before his ouster it was rumored that Bannon was behind some of the negative leaks against Trump and over the weekend a New York Times columnist, Bret Stephens (he’s a staunch David-Frum-conservative) outed Bannon as an anti-Trump leaker.
After a cabinet meeting today, the subject came up:
— ABC News Politics (@ABCPolitics) October 16, 2017
President Trump on Monday sympathized with his former chief strategist, Stephen Bannon, who has launched a self-described “war” on the Republican establishment.
“There are some Republicans, frankly, that should ashamed of themselves,” Trump told reporters during a Cabinet meeting. “So I can understand fully how Steve Bannon feels.”
The president stopped short of explicitly endorsing that effort, but made it clear it is GOP lawmakers — and not him — who should receive the blame for their stalled agenda.
“We’re not getting the job done,” Trump said. “And I’m not going to blame myself, I’ll be honest. They are not getting the job done.”
Trump can’t pass legislation. That’s a fact. You can look it up. But the flip side of the coin is that there is a presidential leadership responsibility that could lead to legislation being passed despite the gutlessness and incompetence of Mitch McConnell. When you have a two-seat majority in Congress you not only have to hold your caucus together as much as possible–knowing that Lisa Murkowski and Susan Collins and John McCain will probably not vote with you because they’ve been taught that the only way anyone cares about their views is when they vote against their caucus–you have to focus on picking off some vulnerable Red State Democrats. Trump isn’t really interested in this because this is hard work, it requires sucking up to rather than being sucked up to, and it isn’t going to bring him any credit because it will fail in a non-trivial number of cases.
It appears that Trump’s macro strategy is to try to shore up his personal brand with his base by treating the House and Senate as the “swamp” that is opposed to change. While I like the direction he’s going with executive orders and rule-making by his cabinet, he needs to start locking these wins in legislatively or they will be as ephemeral as Obama’s.
— The Hill (@thehill) October 14, 2017
It’s a dangerous strategy. It invites third party candidates that will hurt Ryan’s majority–and if we lose the House, the next two years of Trump’s term will be taken up fending off impeachment attempts. It could cost some easy possible wins in the Senate and jeopardize the fate of judicial nominees.
Beyond that, it simply isn’t manly behavior that is going to resonate with his base. Blaming others, no matter how much you think the blame is deserved, isn’t something that is admirable.