My latest piece in POLITICO Magazine uses a bumpy week of revelations to surmise when (if ever) Congressional Republicans might tire of this White House, and what would compel them to cut bait. For now voter sentiment is enough to keep them in line, but ultimately Trump’s hold on elected GOPers is only as strong as the promise of the Republican legislative agenda:
The collective action problem facing elected Republicans today is an echo of the dynamic that played out on the campaign trail. Whatever their true feelings, your average member is boxed in unless and until Trump’s numbers begin to crater with their voters; right now, his approval rating among Republicans is in the 80s. While most GOP congressional candidates kept Trump at arms’ length last year, a move validated by their performance, those who openly crossed him did so strategically and in relatively muted tones. The one time you did see a real jailbreak, with the release of the infamous Access Hollywood tape, it yielded around 50 defections; but those decisions—and the ensuing anticlimax—leave scar tissue to this day. During a crucial week for the health care bill, leaked audio surfaced of Speaker Paul Ryan backing away from Trump mere weeks before the election, an episode that remains a sore spot for the president.
And yet the stakes on the trail were different. Back then you only had to grit your teeth through the last few months of the election, hold on tight and hope for the best. Flash forward and Republicans actually hold all the levers of power. If it was hard to cross the party’s underdog nominee, the thought of breaking with the president of the United States with three and a half years left on the clock is exponentially more daunting. Moreover, the current trifecta may be a once-a-generation legislative opportunity, suggesting a heightened tolerance for Trump’s foibles. When you find yourself in the red zone on a decade’s worth of political goals, it takes a lot of lost yardage to force you to punt.
There still may be more fallout from the Russia meeting, to be sure. For now it feels like a political bomb that didn’t quite go off, even if the audible ticks sent the smarter pols scrambling. But it’s nonetheless an instructive moment when it comes to discerning the pain threshold for the elected GOP. The criticisms may grow louder with each unforced error by the White House, but as long as the legislative dream is still alive it’s hard to imagine any sort of full-scale break. If that dream dies, however, it’s every man for himself.
Read the full piece here.
I spoke with Bloomberg View‘s Frank Wilkinson about the emerging policy and political void as the blank slate of the campaign trail gives way to the legislative and bureaucratic Thunderdome.
Power doesn’t so much concentrate in the White House as shrink there.
“The same problem extends to the broader administration where you can’t fill out a government because many who are qualified aren’t interested, most who are interested aren’t qualified, and among the few who are both you’re seeing people disqualified based on perceived loyalty issues,” Donovan said.
The Trump team, continued Donovan, seems to believe “they can shrink government and/or limit internal sabotage by simply not filling many of these positions — the problem with this approach is that you’re just dividing the same amount of power fewer ways, ceding a ton of it to career bureaucrats by default, for better or worse.”
“Politically,” said Donovan, “I’d argue it’s less of a vacuum and more of an eclipse. Trump blocks out the political sun for any and all Republicans, much to the delight of the opposition.”
Read the full piece here.
I already weighed in on the strategic folly of Schumer’s Gorsuch gambit last week at POLITICO Magazine, but I decided it was worth a meditation on the sheer disingenuousness of it all over at National Review.
Neither party has a monopoly on bad faith, but the advantage of McConnell’s gambit was its simplicity. The election-year-vacancy rule, however contrived, lent itself to relentless message discipline. Republicans took great care not to indulge a debate on the process of the nomination, much less the merits of the nominee. It’s here where Schumer’s approach fails: Democrats are lodging an ideological complaint, wrapped in an appeal to principle, inside a procedural red herring.
Schumer’s muddled pretext has flushed his members down an agonizing logical cul de sac. Take Claire McCaskill, emerging from a self-proclaimed “vortex” to announce that she would join a filibuster, despite being up for reelection in 2018 in a state that went for Donald Trump by 19 points less than six months ago. Consider the tortured lede of her piece at Medium.com:
This is a really difficult decision for me. I am not comfortable with either choice. While I have come to the conclusion that I can’t support Neil Gorsuch for the Supreme Court — and will vote no on the procedural vote and his confirmation — I remain very worried about our polarized politics and what the future will bring, since I’m certain we will have a Senate rule change that will usher in more extreme judges in the future.
While you wouldn’t know it from Schumer’s dodgy rhetoric, or from McCaskill’s em-dash aside, these outcomes are not mutually exclusive. Indeed, it is precisely Senator McCaskill’s opposition on the procedural vote that will probably precipitate the rule change she professes to fear.
Full piece here.