I see here and there news reports discussing President Trump’s new ‘bipartisan path’, which has Republicans gnashing their teeth and Democrats not so much rejoicing as relishing the pain of their Republican colleagues. This is wonderful to watch. But it’s not a ‘bipartisan path’. It’s not even close.
As I mentioned a few days ago, I think the clearest and simplest explanation of President Trump’s decision to cut a short-term debt ceiling deal with Congressional Democrats was his need to dominate the people around him. The best reporting I’ve seen over the last year – buttressed by my own observations – is that Trump has a generalized contempt for the Republicans who toady to him. He loves it. He loves the adulation and dignity-sacrifice. But he also has contempt for the people. That bargain has come under strain as Trump’s toadies have shown themselves unable to deliver victories for him. As he’s become more unpopular, he’s hewn more tightly to his racist/populist base, thus leading many erstwhile toadies to criticize him, which just deepens his anger at them. The mix of anger at insufficient toadying and the inability to deliver for him makes him want to lash out and that’s what he’s done.
But this isn’t a bipartisan path. It’s just Trump lashing out. When a spouse cheats either to make their partner jealous or to inflict emotional pain, that’s not polyamory. It’s aggression. The same is true here.
Trump is still pushing a draconian deportation policy. He has set a countdown on the fate of the Dreamers. He’s readying a tax plan which would dramatically reduce the tax burden on the wealthiest Americans. He’s turned the Justice Department not only against robust civil rights enforcement but into the biggest activist group supporting voter suppression. All of which is to say that he’s still pursuing a hard, radical right-wing agenda. He’s cut a deal with the Democrats on a minor procedural matter which may make Republicans sad and reduce their leverage. But it’s not anything that has any real ideological or policy significance.
Could it become more than that? I doubt it. But maybe. This morning’s Axios email from Mike Allen presents a slightly different version of events from what I’ve laid out above. It may have started this way. But Trump is liking seeing himself praised and having a brief window when everyone doesn’t hate him quite as much as they have over the last eight months. Do remember this: I’ve long held that Trump thought winning the Presidency meant everyone would have to start loving him. That sounds ridiculous. But at a base level, I think it’s true. He believed that winning the presidency brought with it a constitutional right to perpetual adulation. In that he has clearly been disappointed, other than with the tight circle of toadies he works with in the White House. And remember, as much as requires toadying, he has contempt for those who provide it.
Here’s Allen’s report …
A Trump adviser says that after a tumultuous seven months in office, it had finally dawned on the president: “People really f@&@ing hate me.”
For someone who has spent his life lapping up adulation, however fake, it was a harsh realization. This is a man with an especially acute need for affirmation.
This week’s bear hug of Nancy Pelosi and Chuck Schumer opened Trump’s eyes to one solution: Stop doing things that people hate, and start striking deals.
I’m quite skeptical of this. Or at least I’m quite skeptical that it will lead to any meaningful change over who Trump is as President. But the desire to be loved is a core, core driver of his whole personality. He rails against the ‘failing New York times’. But it’s probably true that there’s no institution he’s ever wanted the praise of more than the prestige paper in his own home town.
So I’m quite skeptical of all of this. There’s no ‘bipartisan path’ in effect now. What I do think there’s a chance of is that Democrats can use his desire to be loved and adored – or at least not so wildly hated – to cut deals that drive further wedges between him and his party and thus set them up for more internal chaos and a worse 2018 midterm election.
That would not be all bad.