Don’t make too much of Trump’s deal with the Democrats


Be wary of anyone who purports to understand the deep meaning of President Trump’s decision to side with the Democrats on short-term budget issues. Nobody knows what he’s up to, and this probably includes Trump himself.

Nonetheless, his recent foray into bipartisanship provides the occasion to explore the path he chose not to take at the beginning of his administration. He had the opportunity to put Democrats in a tight spot. Instead, he has spent his energies since Jan. 20 strengthening the hand of his opponents and weakening his own party.

If Trump had opened his presidency by detailing a major infrastructure plan, Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer and his colleagues would have had no choice but to cooperate, as Schumer himself signaled at the time. If Trump had also lived up to the promises of his campaign by proposing to make Obamacare better and not simply pushing for repeal, he might have fostered a similar spirit of bipartisan engagement.

He could have linked these Democratic-friendly ideas with an early call for tax cuts as part of tax reform, which would have made Republicans happy, as has his ongoing work to eviscerate Obama-era business regulations.

All this might have added to the deficit in a big way, but Trump has always lived on debt. This course would have been seen by some critics as philosophically muddled, and by some conservatives as betrayal. But you can imagine that the prevailing wisdom in Washington would have praised him for breaking through “stale” political categories and “rising above” the old partisan fights. He could also have given himself more bargaining room by putting everyone, Democrats as well as Republicans, in play.

It could be that Trump’s latest move is a reach for this lost chance, although it seemed to be more impulse than strategy. It was also sudden. No one on either side was prepared for Trump’s embrace of Schumer and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi’s suggestion to pass hurricane relief now and to set up December as the time for serious haggling. Democrats are likely to have more leverage then.

Being who he is, Trump may have wanted to take a slap at his putative allies, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and House Speaker Paul Ryan, both of whom he seems to dislike intensely. And perhaps he was looking for a few days of good headlines.

Trump’s problem with moving from a relatively small policy gesture to an entirely new approach is that the immediate past cannot be erased.

He is a far weaker figure today than he was when he was inaugurated. His poll numbers are terrible, the Russia story has ballooned in importance, and Democrats are in no mood to throw him any lifelines. His words and actions on race and deportations have erected new moral barriers to any pragmatic turn toward working with him. “All he’s done in eight months,” said a senior Senate Democratic aide, “is make the price of cooperation a lot higher.”

Democrats will certainly try to press the temporary advantage they seem to have on behalf of immigrants endangered by Trump’s moves against the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program (DACA). They’ll also push for Obamacare funding, an end to the debt ceiling, and a variety of budget concessions.

We should have learned long ago that looking for coherence from this president is a fool’s errand. He may have happened on a wiser political strategy too late to do himself much good, but just in time to hurt his already ailing party even more.



Reader Comments ...


Next Up in Opinion

Letters to the editor: Nov. 21, 2017
Letters to the editor: Nov. 21, 2017

On Veterans Day, entering the grocery store I noticed “The Star-Spangled Banner” playing. Tables were set with finger sandwiches, chips, dips, and cake was being distributed by store personnel dressed in patriotic gear. As I shopped, the anthem kept playing on a loop. After the fourth repetition, I explained to a store employee when the...
Letters to the editor: Nov. 20, 2017

Re: Nov. 13 commentary, “Wear: MetroRail station late and costlier? Yes and no. Maybe.” Apparently, our local transit planners have never heard of “connectivity.” Pieces of our transit system don’t connect. The Capital Metro downtown rail station is blocks from both the Megabus terminal and the north-south 801 and 803...
Commentary: How Texans suffer without office of minority health
Commentary: How Texans suffer without office of minority health

During the past legislative session, Texas lawmakers canceled funding for the Office of Minority Health Statistics and Engagement (OMHSE) beyond Sept. 1, 2018. In effect, this means Texas could soon become the first state in the nation without an office of minority health. This is a bad decision by our lawmakers because Texas institutions continue...
Commentary: How NAFTA, immigration influence Texas’ economic future
Commentary: How NAFTA, immigration influence Texas’ economic future

Future challenges faced by the Texas economy with trade, immigration and border governance policies were the focus of a recent symposium convened by UT Austin’s LBJ School of Public Affairs and its Texas 2030 Project. Some eye-opening facts emerged. Today’s Texas economy depends heavily on international trade and is built around technology...
Herman: Uncertain times in a media industry with an uncertain future
Herman: Uncertain times in a media industry with an uncertain future

I recently manned a table at career day at North Austin’s Padron Elementary School. It didn’t take me long to confront, in my head, the stark reality that I was talking to kids about a career that (a) might not look like it does now or (b) won’t exist when they age into the labor force. I work at a newspaper, which these days means...
More Stories