House Speaker Paul Ryan is inching closer toward the same fate as his predecessor for failing to preempt the president’s deal with the Democrats.
On September 6, Donald Trump announced his endorsement for Democratic leaders Chuck Schumer and Nancy Pelosi’s proposal to provide more federal aid to Hurricane Harvey victims, fund the government for another three months and raise the debt ceiling only an hour after House Speaker Paul Ryan, who has been lobbying to raise the ceiling past the midterm elections to 18 months, described such a proposal as “ridiculous and disgraceful.” Fellow Republicans, too, were rightly infuriated. A senior GOP official told Politico that the president “handed a loaded gun to Nancy Pelosi and Chuck Schumer.” Another, according to Axios, put it more bluntly: “He fucked us.”
There are reasons to suggest that his deal with the Democrats is more political masochism and not simple triangulation. After all, the president has never been above exacting vendettas on his congressional colleagues, nor has he fooled many of them into believing he possesses basic competence. The same day he signed off on the proposal, for instance, Trump traveled with Democratic Senator Heidi Heitkamp to North Dakota, invited her onstage and pledged his support as she prepares for reelection. While this was his attempt to coax her into supporting his tax reform efforts, conservatives are still disgruntled and confused as to where his loyalties lie after his thorough contempt for Arizona Senator Jeff Flake the previous month.
The past week had been especially vindicating for pundits and reporters who have argued that Trump was never a conservative to begin with. “President Trump spent his first day as a Democratic president on Wednesday,” writes Ben Shapiro in The Daily Wire. “Trump is many things, but he is not, nor has he ever been, a committed Republican. He seized control of the party in a hostile takeover,” Eugene Robinson, of The Washington Post, agreed.
This isn’t the first time Trump has jostled with Republicans and nor will it be the last time that he will either fecklessly or calculatedly bargains with the other side. It remains to be seen whether he will choose to negotiate on matters such as trade or infrastructure down the road. It also remains to be seen as to what further kinds of chaos Trump has opened within his own party. Since his presidency began, the rift within the GOP between the working-class nationalists and Reaganite conservatives has grown wider, while the Democrats have become ideologically more consolidated.
What is also noteworthy is the ire that has been drawn upon the House speaker. Ryan has always had his share of enemies amongst populist circles, but recent reports have been spreading that a group of ultraconservative leaders are already planning for his replacement. And one of the linchpins to this coup is none other than Steve Bannon. Since returning to Breitbart News as executive chairman, Trump’s former chief strategist has been “in consultation” with members of the House Freedom Caucus, an invitation-only group that instigated the resignation of former House Speaker John Boehner.
But this time, the members of the caucus are giving the president a free pass to singularly blame Ryan for failing to tie the debt ceiling raise with spending offsets. Chairman Mark Meadows, who has already warned Ryan a mutiny will be underway if the leadership fails again, said: “You’ve got to give options for the president to consider. If there’s no conservative option there, ultimately the president making a decision based on what’s best for the country has to weigh all those factors. It’s incumbent on us to put out conservative options. I don’t know of a conservative debt limit strategy that was being offered — do any of you?”
For Ryan, reforming the country’s messy tax code will prove to be his greatest challenge thus far, now that he can add being side-stepped on the debt ceiling bill and blundering health care to his list of disappointments. But managing that with a possible insurrection in front of him will be exceedingly challenging with an erratic and clueless commander-in-chief to worry about as well.
Trump voters are hopeful that in the long run he will reward them for their loyalty and so are willing to overlook the olive branch he extended to Pelosi and Schumer. Perhaps they are still blinded by their own dogmatism, but Trump has further exemplified his complete indifference to enact actual conservative policies or negotiate with his party’s congressional leadership. It wouldn’t be too presumptuous to think that Trump’s only priority is to win his own way, avoid party in-fighting and possibly have Ryan kicked out of office. But acquiescing to the opposition who cares for nothing more than his humiliation is not prudent for the president in the long run either.
The country is still discombobulated after electing a reality-TV star to the highest office of the land. Ryan is certainly not the leader it needs, but if nothing so far seems to have completely discredited Trump’s acolytes, then one can only wonder as to what will.
The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Fair Observer’s editorial policy.