On Thursday morning, President Trump’s war on the Freedom Caucus continued via Twitter:
This follows hard on last week’s tweetstorm targeting the Freedom Caucus over the failure of his Trumpcare plan:
Trump has now made clear just where he stands: against conservatives in Congress.
This isn’t a strategy. It’s puerile idiocy. Some of Trump’s most ardent supporters have been urging Trump to walk across the aisle in order to work with Democrats – but the same tweet targeting the Freedom Caucus for potential 2018 primaries also targets Democrats. Let’s do some simple math. There are 246 Republicans in Congress. Trump needs 218 Congresspeople to pass anything. There are 30 members of the Freedom Caucus – and there are 10 to 15 moderates who weren’t fond of Trumpcare. So by alienating every Freedom Caucus member and attacking Democrats too, Trump has mathematically deprived himself of a majority in Congress.
Furthermore, the entire Trumpcare debacle reeks of kabuki theater: Trump pushes a bill he knows is going to go down, then immediately turns on his right flank in order to move to the populist center. Only it’s incompetent kabuki theater, because Democrats aren’t interested in working with Trump: they just want to jerk him around for a couple years, prevent him from passing anything meaningful, and then take back Congress in 2018.
And this strategy tells us the truth about where Trump’s sympathies always lay: in the political center. Being anti-establishment does not mean being conservative. Trump is anti-establishment in manner but not in policy. He’s not a small government Tea Party conservative – those are the people in the Freedom Caucus, virtually all of whom ardently backed Trump in the general election. Trump is actively attacking those people out of either simple pique or the 4D chess “strategery” of a five-year-old child.
This is the brilliant negotiator we’ve heard so much about?
Perhaps Trump’s idea here is to peel off some wavering members of the Freedom Caucus for his future agenda items. He doesn’t need to do that if he just proposes good legislation. But if his goal is to do that, the members of the Freedom Caucus and their political fellow travelers don’t seem particularly eager to buckle the knee:
And even if Trump did succeed in turning the Freedom Caucus into just another establishment outlet, would that help the Republican Party or the conservative cause? Of course not.
But at least Trump has Paul Ryan to fall back on:
This is a joke. If Daddy Trump decides to cheat on Mommy Conservatives with Mistress Democrats, that's just because Mommy Conservatives didn't go to bed with him enough when he demanded things they weren't willing to do?
Trump entered the White House on the promise to destroy the way Washington D.C. does business. Instead, he’s been co-opted by Paul Ryan and Mitch McConnell to the extent of attacking the most conservative members of his own party – and watching Ryan and McConnell make excuses for him.
Who’s the establishment now?
If Trump wants to have a successful presidency, he can’t go to war with his base. And conservatives are still the base of the Republican Party, even if he thinks he’s going to cut Big Deals with unspecified players, none of whom have shown any penchant to go along with his program for a hot second.