The deal President Trump struck this week with Democratic Party leadership has sent the conservative commentariat into a rage spiral. Trump, snubbing the Republican “leadership” of Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and Speaker of the House Paul Ryan, agreed to raise the debt ceiling for three months. “Principled” congressional Republicans, in an act of true statesmanship, wanted to extend the debt limit past the 2018 election, thus making their election prospects easier.
Jonah Goldberg, a knee-jerk anti-Trumper who never misses the opportunity to display his hatred of the president and his contempt for those who support him, has weighed in on the deal. According to Goldberg, Trump’s “obsequious” “cheerleaders” (readers and associates of American Greatness, for example) loved it. But “contrary to wishful theories that Trump is playing ‘four-dimensional chess,’ the president doesn’t really know what he’s doing.”
And Congress does? Goldberg rehearses a litany of tepid excuses to absolve lawmakers of most of their responsibility: “The Republican majority in the Senate is much narrower than the Democratic majority was when Obama was elected.” (So eliminate the filibuster.) “Many GOP leaders never thought Trump would win, and so they hadn’t prepared for victory.” (Most didn’t want Trump to win in the first place.) “Also, the Republican party is divided along a host of fault lines, and a large swath of the Republican caucus has no experience at actually governing.” (Gee, wonder why that is? Could it be that those “fault lines” don’t have much to do with the actual concerns of voters? As to the “governing” argument, this is simply Beltway speak for a failure to realize the idealized dreams of people who imagine a presidency should look like it did on Aaron Sorkin’s “The West Wing.” Grow up.)
Instead, Goldberg lays the blame squarely on Trump. Trump “a former New York Democrat,” (Goldberg regularly confuses the citation of misleading facts with the process of building arguments), struck a deal that gives “the shaft to his own party.”
But that is precisely the point. A pre-Trump Congress, defined by old coalitions (e.g., RINOs vs. the Freedom Caucus), is trying to exist in a political world defined by the new coalitions that put Trump in the White House. And it is not going well, to say the least. The failure of congressional Republicans to achieve any of Trump’s major initiatives is but a symptom of these two clashing realities. Republicans have been unable to adjust to the new reality or even to acknowledge it. And this has made it impossible for them to satisfy the voters.
Republicans forget themselves: Trump is not beholden to the leadership of the Republican Party and its Chamber of Commerce-driven agenda, which has motivated its loyalists for at least a decade. It’s an agenda that never had a much of a national constituency in the first place. Ben Domenech, the publisher of The Federalist, writes “since his inauguration congressional Republicans have acted like they have an equal seat at the table. They don’t have that, and they don’t deserve it. And Trump should stop pretending they do.”
In siding with the Democrats in this minor deal, Trump is holding congressional Republicans’ feet to the fire. By making it clear to voters that he is the dealmaker-in-chief he promised to be on the campaign trail, he is allowing Americans to see just how feckless and broken the current Congress is and, by way of contrast, is showing them what he might be able to accomplish with a Congress that is even mildly sympathetic with his agenda.
Goldberg is stuck in the past and hobbled by a view of American politics that is less and less relevant with each passing day. The best he can do is moan how Trump “holds no deep love for ideological conservatism” and sputter about how Trump “refuses to learn.” But if anything it is Goldberg who refuses to learn about the circumstances that propelled Trump to the White House.
Trump ran against ideological conservatism—and won. Bigly.
Goldberg seems to prefer the way things have been done over the last few decades, with conservative rhetoric flying about and ultimately meaningless ideological battles in Congress. But this just won’t do. The failures of this approach should be obvious—even to a blinkered conservative ideologue.
By spurning the Republican elites, Trump is attempting to inspire voters to give him a new kind of Republican Congress in 2018. He is showing the American people how out of step the current Congress is with his winning agenda of secure borders, an interest-based foreign policy, and economic nationalism. In this way Trump is trying to keep his most important campaign promise: to drain a swamp that has engulfed everything it touches. If in working to achieve that goal the Republican Party goes the way of the Whig Party, so be it.