Trump Might Be About to Launch His Dumbest Gambit Yet to Save His Presidency

The idea that Trump is going to be bridging ideological divides is delusional: he's heavily mixed in the extremism of the far right.

No, Donald Trump did not become “presidential” when he embraced Democratic leaders’ plans to fund hurricane relief and keep the government open through December.

No, Trump did not become “bipartisan” when he temporarily abandoned Mitch McConnell and Paul Ryan in favor of Chuck Schumer and Nancy Pelosi. 

“What Trump did do last week, whether he knows it or not, is create a governing coalition of 150 Republicans and all Democrats,” says Politico. Whether Trump is willing and able to use this potential coalition to govern is the question that will dominate Washington through the end of the year. The prospects are not bright.

After all, Trump had a stronger governing coalition, at least on paper, when he came to office with a slim majority of Republicans in the Senate and a solid majority of Republicans in the House. He misplayed that hand into an impressive record of failure: defeat on repealing Obamacare; no progress on funding a border wall; and no action on tax reform, tax cuts or launching an infrastructure jobs program.

His self-incriminating behavior on the investigation of possible collusion with Russia during the 2016 campaign, in which he embroidered his foolish actions with outright lies and bald confessions, alienated would-be GOP allies. So did his ham-handed demands and threats to Republicans who objected to his antics.

If nothing else, with this latest gambit Trump has bought himself the possibility of a new start. Aligning himself with Democrats makes him look, if only for a moment, like a president willing to work with the opposition to get something—anything!—done. He has abandoned his dysfunctional alliance with the congressional Republicans and their unpopular agenda in favor of freedom of maneuver. 

Trump is now, as Peter Baker in the New York Timessays, “in many ways, the first independent to hold the presidency since the advent of the current two-party system around the time of the Civil War.”

Desperate for a “win,” Trump could use his newfound independence to stabilize his presidency. But will he?

Bipartisan Steps

On health care, a sensible solution to the problems of the Affordable Care Act is beckoning. Senators Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) and Patty Murray (D-Wash.) are preparing legislation that would shore up Obamacare health care markets and end the Trump administration’s gratuitious efforts to undermine the program. 

The goal is to fund a key set of Obamacare subsidies known as cost-sharing reduction payments. Five governors urged Congress and Trump to fund the payments, which reduce deductibles and co-pays for lower-income enrollees, at least through 2018.

Having jettisoned the hard-right Freedom Caucus in the House, Trump now has the flexibility to endorse "five bipartisan steps toward stabilizing the health care system."

And he has Senate leaders, independent of McConnell, who are willing to act.

"I'm going to sit down with Sen. Murray and with other senators and come to a conclusion about what I think we can pass," Sen. Alexander said last week. "I want to be able to take to Sen. McConnell and Sen. Schumer a consensus proposal within 10 days or so.”

If Trump endorses the legislation, its chances of becoming law are good. Shoring up Obamacare would give him a substantive win and deliver real benefits to his constituents.

The only problem: to have real effect, Trump would have to act quickly, and he seems resolutely uninterested.

The president just cut funding for outreach programs to inform people of the ACA open enrollment season for the express purpose of sinking the law. He is pushing for another vote to repeal Obamacare, this time via the legislation of Sens. Lindsey Graham (R-SC), Dean Heller (R-Nev.) and Bill Cassidy (R-La.)

Trump has separated himself from the congressional Republicans, but cannot separate himself from his core passion of undoing President Obama's legacy.

Schumer’s Jobs Plan

Ditto on the president’s ever-receding plans for a trillion-dollar infrastructure jobs program. White House adviser Steve Bannon talked up the idea, but Trump’s Republican allies expressed no interest. Now Bannon is gone and Trump has thrown in with the Democrats.

If Trump were serious about a jobs program, he has a solution waiting on Chuck Schumer's shelf. It’s called "A Blueprint to Rebuild America’s Infrastructure," a well-thought-out proposal to use public spending to create jobs and upgrade the country’s decaying infrastructure.

The Democrats' 10-year blueprint includes $75 billion for schools, $210 billion for roads and bridges, $110 billion for aging water and sewer systems, $180 billion for expanded rail and bus lines, $70 billion for deeper ports and upgraded airports, $100 billion for an updated electrical grid, $10 billion for VA hospitals, and $20 billion for broadband installations.

Back in January, Schumer introduced the plan as a way to drive a wedge between the new president and congressional Republicans. Now that Trump is at odds with GOP leadership, the president could go one step further and bring in Democrats as partners in governing by adopting Schumer’s plan as his own.

Congressional Democrats would jump at the chance to enact a real jobs agenda and moderate congressional Republicans outside the South would be enticed by the concrete benefits of such a plan. Trump’s loyal base would go along, and Democrats would have little choice but to moderate their hostility toward the president, at least on economic issues.

The problem is that Trump isn’t serious about creating jobs. He is serious about privatization schemes, euphemistically known as “public-private partnerships,” that enrich politically connected investors. Talking about “jobs for Americans” is Trump's hook to sell the gullible on a policy payday for his cronies and allies.

Embracing Schumer’s jobs plan would require Trump to change his way of doing business. Even the big potential benefits of joining forces with the Democrats on jobs seems unlikely to overcome the president's preference for grift.

As his reaction to neo-Nazi marchers in Charlottesville confirmed, Trump’s populism is fundamentally animated by race, not economics. He would rather attack the legacy of President Obama than improve the health care system. He would rather be "America's first white president" than America’s first jobs president.

He could save his presidency, but he prefers to be himself.  

Jefferson Morley is AlterNet's Washington correspondent. He is the author of the forthcoming biography The Ghost: The Secret Life of CIA Spymaster James Jesus Angleton (St. Martin's Press, October 2017) and Snow-Storm in August: Washington City, Francis Scott Key and the Forgotten Race Riot of 1835.

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