With President Trump’s first 100 days officially over, and Congress on the verge of passing a “deal” to keep the government open that looks like it was negotiated between Chuck Schumer’s left hand and his right hand, it’s about time to recognize something: Congress needs this president far more than he needs them because Congress, not the White House, has been the monkey wrench in the gears of successful Republican governance.
On every level the evidence is damning. On policy, this Congress is flatly incapable of passing genuinely Trumpian items like funding for the Wall, and only just managed to drag an Obamacare repeal bill over the finish line in one chamber, despite promising such a bill for the past 6 years. And while that is slight cause for celebration, there is also plenty of reason to assume that Congress’ incapacity for action will simply make the bill die in committee when it reaches the Senate.
align=”left” While conventional wisdom now views Trump as the problem in Washington for his party, the opposite is true. It is not the supposedly “fringe” and “unserious” President who will drag down the GOP next year: it is the do-nothing “mainstream” Congress.
Indeed, so dysfunctional is this Republican majority that analysts are openly doubting whether a Republican-controlled House and Senate can pass tax cuts. That sort of question over a Republican priority with a decades-long vintage should be humiliating to even the most milquetoast Republican.
Small wonder, then, that Congress’ approval ratings make President Trump’s look Rooseveltian by comparison. 20 percent of Americans approve of the job Congress is doing, according to a recent poll, and only 31 percent of Republicans agree. In other words, nearly 70 percent of people with the same party affiliation as Congress actually disapprove of what that Congress is doing. This, in comparison with 85 percent of Republicans who approve of President Trump’s handing of his job.
While conventional wisdom now views Trump as the problem in Washington for his party, the opposite is true. It is not the supposedly “fringe” and “unserious” President who will drag down the GOP next year: it is the do-nothing “mainstream” Congress.
To anyone paying the least bit of attention, it should be obvious why this is the case: namely, that unlike Congress, Trump actually has an agenda. He wants to build a wall on the southern border and enforce immigration law to the letter; make the American healthcare system cover more people at lower cost; cut taxes and simplify the tax code; invest heavily in infrastructure; and slash regulations on business. Since Trump mostly doesn’t require Congressional approval to enforce immigration law and slash regulations, it’s no surprise that these are the agenda items on which he has performed most strongly, and which are likely responsible for his high approval ratings within his own party.
On the other hand, what does Congress stand for? No, that’s not a rhetorical question. This Congress seems to be too busy fighting itself to decide on any common goals: too content to stay mired in internecine wars between “moderate” Republicans who often seem to live to undermine the party, and the “principled” House Freedom Caucus, which often mistakes the voice of Conservatism, Inc. for the voices of their own constituency. In other words, this is a Congress desperately in need of a strong Speaker to crack the whip and marshal his troops for the President. Instead, we have a reluctant paper tiger in the form of Paul Ryan, who, to be fair, didn’t actually want the job because it requires such a purely transactional mindset, which makes it a poor fit for a policy wonk more concerned with intellectual principles than points on the board. And how bad of a fit was it, exactly? Well, such a bad fit that only 22 percent of Americans and 23 percent of Republicans (!) approve of the job Ryan is doing.
align=”right” Unless they begin to work with the President who handed them the ability to enact their agenda by sheer gumption, this entire Congress may soon face the same fate as erstwhile Rep. Stupak and find their chance at power completely aborted.
Republicans―including Ryan―should know the danger of being a Congressman isolated from his President. Those who remember the passage of Obamacare can remember the tragic tale of former Rep. Bart Stupak (D-MI), a man whose pro-life convictions made him an obstacle to Obamacare and thus, a disfavored son within his own party, even as his eventual vote for passage made him unpopular with his broadly socially conservative district. When the 2010 election rolled around, Stupak had a Democratic base ready to primary him, and a Republican base hungry for his scalp by default. Unless they begin to work with the President who handed them the ability to enact their agenda by sheer gumption, this entire Congress may soon face the same fate as erstwhile Rep. Stupak and find their chance at power completely aborted.
The Democrats are desperately energized to spring into action in 2018, not because of any affection for their leaders, but purely because they see those leaders as vehicles with which to impeach and imprison President Trump for imaginary offenses. Trump’s base, on the other hand, has precious little reason to turn out for a Congress that is not even an effective weapon on behalf of their President, who is the most popular and galvanizing figure for Republicans presently on the scene.