If you’re looking for an explanation of what Donald Trump did to his fellow Republicans this week, don’t look to the world of Washington or political science. Your answer won’t be found there. Look instead to the world of real estate and construction, because there it begins to make a bit of sense, at least from Trump’s point of view.
In Trump’s eyes, he is the builder, the man destined to make America great again. In that mindset, Paul Ryan and Mitch McConnell are little more than subcontractors and suppliers who ought to be doing what he tells them. (Much of the Republican base thinks of Ryan and McConnell the same way.) So by siding with congressional Democrats over important votes on the debt-ceiling and hurricane recovery, Trump was sending the Republican leaders a message about their performance:
“You’ve made me unhappy,” he basically told them. “Now I’m making you unhappy. I told you what I wanted, you didn’t deliver, so now I’m doing a deal with your competitors.”
That tactic makes a certain amount of sense in the construction world, but by all accounts, both GOP and Democratic, the deal among Trump, Nancy Pelosi and Chuck Schumer puts congressional Republicans in a much more difficult position. In fact, Pelosi and Schumer had a hard time this week keeping the wattage on their grins at less than solar intensity. The deal gives the minority Democrats more leverage to force their policy priorities into law, and it exposes Republicans to a series of tough votes that they had hoped to avoid. It could very well end up costing the GOP seats in the midterms.
Theoretically, of course, McConnell and Ryan had the power to refuse to go along with the deal. Unlike Trump, who is a newcomer to the party, they are longtime Republicans. They are the elected leaders of Congress, a supposedly independent branch of government. Under the Constitution, the leader of the executive branch should have no more power to dictate the timing and content of congressional floor votes than does some guy sitting at the bar at VFW Post 1621 in Janesville, Wisc., Ryan’s home town.
To return to the construction-industry comparison, Ryan and McConnell also could argue quite accurately that Trump’s unhappiness is his own stupid fault. They’ve been forced to operate with no blueprints from the White House, dealing with a never-ending blizzard of change orders. First he wants to deport the Dreamers, then he wants to coddle them. First he demands that the House pass an Obamacare repeal bill, then he publicly berates the bill as too mean. And where’s his infrastructure plan? Where’s his tax-reform plan? He has none.
Yet Ryan and McConnell dare not make that argument, and they dare not stand up to Trump. In Ryan’s case, he was forced to swallow a proposal Wednesday that he had scorned that very morning as “ridiculous” and “disgraceful,” and then he had to go out in public and pretend that he liked it.
It’s crazy if you think about it. Trump is erratic and childish, but he has such a hold on the Republican base that he can make a deal with Washington Democrats that hurts Republicans and — this is the crazy part — he can make Ryan and McConnell come off as RINOs while doing so.
Personally, I have a hard time working up any sympathy. Every partnership that Trump has ever entered has followed this same trajectory. You make a deal with a scorpion and you’re gonna get stung, because that’s what a scorpion does.