For the last nine months – in some way for the last 28 months – we’ve been told there was some breaking point coming where President Trump’s hold over the GOP, his supporters or some mix of the two was about to come undone. I flagged a few articles last night that suggested something like that might be coming. I’m not suggesting some major rupture is afoot. But for a few different reasons, I do think this blow up with Bob Corker may be something new and different.
This is for two specific reasons: the 2018 election and tax reform.
A big tax cut (currently under the marketing term ‘tax reform’) should be the easiest thing for the GOP majority to pass. Tax cuts are goodies for the recipients and to a great degree irrelevancies for those paying: the costs are too vague and spread out to generate the political traction we’ve seen with cutting people’s health care coverage. Yet the process has been so jagged and disorganized that even this is looking harder than it should be. Starting a civil war with his own party makes Trump’s job even harder.
Then there’s the election. I had been quite skeptical of this idea that Steve Bannon was going to recruit a large number of challengers to GOP Senate incumbents. Now that’s looking much more real. He even seems to be focusing on the most conservative and tractable of incumbents like Sen. Barrasso of Wyoming. Notably, Wyoming may be further from reach for Democrats even than Alabama, even with the craziest candidate. So unlike Arizona, where the Bannonites are directly endangering a GOP seat, Wyoming may be a free shot in purely electoral terms.
But electoral terms are not the only issue.
Policy achievements have a reciprocal and catalytic relationship with elections. Strength leads to strength and the opposite is just as true. The fewer electoral achievements the greater the pressure on GOP congressional majorities. The darker the electoral outlook seems, the harder it is to command those majorities in legislative terms. Disciplining recalcitrant members of a President’s congressional party goes back literally centuries in American history. But doing that from a position of weakness rather than strength is quite difficult. President Trump has his back against the wall on the legislative front. But he’s not focusing on tax reform. He’s picking new legislative fights and (albeit perhaps indirectly) going to war with Senators he needs in his camp for critical legislation. Unbridled aggression, going to war with everyone at once, can work in some cases. I don’t see it working here.