On Wednesday night, the political world erupted in the wake of yet another shocking announcement by President Donald Trump.
After nearly a year of embarrassing, immoral, and ineffectual moves, did Trump finally do something a majority of Americans can support? Could he finally be emerging as the post-partisan, centrist deal-maker that millions of Americans thought they had sent to Washington?
By this point, we should all know better.
First off, if you’re wondering what all this noise is about, let’s catch up:
On Wednesday, Trump hosted congressional leaders from both parties at the White House. Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-Kentucky), Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wisconsin), Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-New York), and Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-California) were all on hand to discuss relief funds for Hurricane Harvey and the impending debt ceiling, which will result in a government shutdown if Congress doesn’t approve an extension first.
Republicans have been pushing for an 18-month extension of the debt ceiling. That would allow them to avoid any politically risky discussions about the federal budget until after the 2018 midterm elections. Democrats wanted a three-month extension, one that would put just such a debate front and center of the political news right as members of Congress are trying to close shop and race home for the holidays.
After a one-hour discussion in which both sides made their respective cases, Trump announced a deal had been made. And in a truly shocking moment, he gave Democrats Schumer and Pelosi everything they wanted, publicly praising “Chuck and Nancy” afterward.
Longtime political observers were quick to note the echoes of Bill Clinton’s presidency, in which he salvaged his meandering first term in office by orchestrating deals on big issues like balancing the federal budget and welfare reform with then-House Speaker Newt Gingrich and Senate Majority Leader Bob Dole.
It makes total sense why Trump would want to emulate Clinton – the former president was wildly popular, charismatic, and the first American politician since John F. Kennedy who could arguably be called a “sex symbol.” In many ways, he’s everything Trump wishes he could be and has so spectacularly failed to become.
Near the end of the 2016 presidential campaign, a series of photos emerged from the Clinton Presidential Library showing Trump socializing with Bill and Hillary Clinton back in 2000.
First and foremost, the photos were just bizarre to digest in the midst of the knife fight of an election.
But the thing that immediately caught my eye was how Trump was practically throwing himself at Bill, leaning in closely for photos and reportedly trying to build a tight-knit relationship with the “Man from Hope” who had just relocated to New York City.
That said, Trump’s deal is nothing like any of Clinton’s famous deals with Republicans. The reason Clinton’s triangulation moves were so successful was that he managed to co-opt the most palpable aspects of Republican ideas and transform them into his own. Despite controlling both chambers of Congress, that left Republicans as the opposition party, forced to either acquiesce or stand in the way of popular, centrist proposals. Trump’s “deal” was simply giving minority leaders Schumer and Pelosi everything they want without extracting a single concession.
Meanwhile, Republicans have greeted the debt ceiling deal with nearly universal disdain. McConnell and Ryan are reportedly livid, and Trump’s most conservative allies in Congress are scraping their collective jaws off the finely marbled flooring of our nation’s capital. Trump himself seems ecstatic, reportedly calling Pelosi and Schumer to brag about how well the deal is being received by the same mainstream media he so often derides as “fake news.”
Again, we should all know better.
What Trump is really doing here is what he’s always done: Putting his own interests above all else.
Trump doesn’t care about policy. He doesn’t care about healing a sharply divided nation. He cares about his own self-preservation. And more than anything, the “very lonely” billionaire has an insatiable desire to be liked, something that has proved increasingly elusive in the early days of his disastrous presidency.
Making a deal with Democrats is good for Trump, even if it’s potentially disastrous for Republicans. And it doesn’t explicitly violate any of his core campaign promises: replacing Obamacare, building a wall between America and Mexico, and improving the economy.
And now there’s talk Trump wants to take things further with Schumer, with reports indicating the pair have discussed removing the ominous debt ceiling altogether, something that would prove politically convenient for the leaders of both parties but is certain to infuriate diehard members of the Freedom Caucus.
In the coming days, don’t be surprised if you hear about a “renewed” Trump presidency, one in which he teases out seductive deals with Democrats on a national infrastructure plan and a permanent version of the DACA program he shamefully scrapped just days before.
However, no matter where you fall on the political spectrum, it’s essential to remember that all we have here is a proverbial handshake deal that keeps the government running and sends essential relief funds to Texas and Louisiana. And all of this rests on the very real threat that a reliably capricious Trump could radically change his mind on a moment’s notice, throwing out whatever goodwill he’s potentially earned with his new best friends, Chuck and Nancy.
In that scenario, Trump may have truly exhausted any remaining slivers of hope that his presidency could be anything short of a disaster, a bloated cruise liner lumbering directly toward an iceberg no matter how clear the path appears on the left or the right.
Share image via William J. Clinton Presidential Library.