The nation is in rebellion. Outraged voters elected President Donald Trump to turn American government on its head, while his liberal opponents are marching in the streets chanting “rise” and “resist” to stop him. In the meantime, stuck between these two revolts are Congressional Republicans, whose stronghold on Capitol Hill rests in the uneasy place between President Trump, who gives them the power they’ve lacked for eight years, and their own policy agenda, which is widely divergent from his.
Ironically, the growing disconnects between Paul Ryan (R-WI) and Mitch McConnell’s (R-KY) GOP and Donald Trump’s populist administration represents a big opportunity for Democrats to exploit. Whether Democrats can actually do this depends on their liberal base’s willingness to cease their rebellion, drop their pitchforks and torches, and allow their leadership to deal with the President in a congenial way. The idea may seem absurd on its head – Donald Trump sandwiched between a smiling Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) and Chuck Schumer (D-NY) – but this odd coupling shares many policy goals that traditional Republicans have blocked for years.
The list includes: curtailing free trade agreements, massive infrastructure spending, expanded paid family medical leave, a pervasive defense of “the forgotten man,” government-negotiated prescription drug prices, and a general ending to American global interventionism – a menu of policies that places Trump in an entirely different party than his peers in Congress.
The President seems to know this, which is why his fiery inaugural address about Washington’s inaction seemed to be aimed as much at Republican leaders as the departing Obama Administration. Though the GOP Old Guard has spent the last three months snapping selfies in their Make America Great Again hats, it’s no secret that Trump sees his congressional counterparts as co-conspirators in America’s decline. In turn, many of those men – Marco Rubio (R-FL), Ted Cruz (R-TX), John McCain (R-AZ) and Rand Paul (R-KY), for example – were harsh critics of him during the campaign.
We are already seeing the end of Trump’s Republican honeymoon. Recently, Senators McCain and Graham (R-SC) broke with the President over his controversial refugee order, beginning a trend that will tumble down the ranks if Trump continues to embarrass Republicans while he advances an agenda that cuts against their interests. That alliance can’t hold.
Democrats should see this rift as an opportunity to hijack the Trump agenda and achieve legislative victories in their many shared interests. Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer already took a first shot at this when he responded to the President’s call for a trillion-dollar infrastructure stimulus by releasing his own plan, which Majority Leader Mitch McConnell was quick to pan. More interesting though was the Republican Leader’s response to Trump’s similar request, which the calculated Kentuckian tip-toed away from when he told the press that, “I hope we avoid a trillion-dollar stimulus.” Reading between the lines, it’s clear that Republicans are already playing defense.
But for Democrats to win in this game, they will have to make one all-important choice: to approach Trump as a negotiating partner and not an existential threat. This will require a certain moral plasticity that usually makes minority parties squirm, but they would be well-served to consider the thought.
After all, the Left’s claim to moral superiority over the President is worth little compared to gaining some real power to execute their plans. And right now, Democrats are at a historic low. Besides, if they’re serious about rebuilding their party, liberals need to attract Trump voters back to their ticket, which will never happen as long as their message hinges on painting the President and his supporters as ignorant, racist, or defective in character, as they are doing now.
The hard way to get back their voters is to continue with more of the same: stonewall Trump, obstruct from the moral high ground, and then try to make nice come election time. The easier way to do it is to be bought. And as we enter a period of uncharted territory, one where a Republican President pushes an agenda that is frequently more aligned with Democratic priorities than his own party’s, Democrats will find opportunities to run up the price for their support. Meanwhile, they can enjoy the sight of Republicans scattering, trapped in the hard space between a GOP base that expects loyalty to the President but will be outraged if Congress approves the un-conservative policies he’s actually proposing.
All of this, however, depends on Democrats’ willingness to cooperate with the White House to divide a Congressional GOP that Trump’s right-hand-boogeyman Steve Bannon is on the record for calling, “c*nts.”
Liberals want to fight but their anger is blinding them from a rare opportunity. That’s why they would be wise to see that success in their rebellion will not come by waging the holy war that is currently playing out in city streets, but by picking their battles and avoiding the pettiness of criticizing every last remark the Trump Administration makes. If they choose a principled resistance and not a suicidal rebellion, they’ll be able to claim big victories to take home and use for the all-important task of recruiting, regrouping, and reforming their lines for 2018 and beyond.