There are now three par­ties in Amer­ica: Democrats, Repub­li­cans… and Don­ald

The Sunday Telegraph - - Sunday Comment - MOLLY KINIRYIRY

It’s this au­tumn’s za­ni­est sit­com. Don­ald in the Mid­dle stars three best friends who get up to all sorts of wacky high-jinks around the na­tion’s cap­i­tal. Along the way these for­mer enemies learn the value of bi­par­ti­san gov­er­nance and friend­ship.

We all get more than enough en­ter­tain­ment from Washington these days. But the Don­ald’s lat­est dal­liances with Democrats – specif­i­cally, his ap­par­ently am­i­ca­ble talks with House and Senate lead­ers Nancy Pelosi and Chuck Schumer – do feel like some­thing of a joke.

Af­ter all this time, all those tweets, the in­sults and the name-call­ing, could he pos­si­bly be­lieve that the Left will pro­vide his po­lit­i­cal sal­va­tion?

Trump is eight months into his pres­i­dency and has noth­ing to show for it. It is said that he blames con­gres­sional Repub­li­cans for the lack of progress on his agenda.

He’s tried to go it alone (see the so-called Mus­lim ban), and he’s tried push­ing through leg­is­la­tion with­out Demo­cratic co-op­er­a­tion (see the at­tempted re­peal and re­place­ment of Oba­macare). Now, he’s push­ing at door num­ber three: ditch the Grand Old Party, and grab what­ever Demo­cratic votes are go­ing.

With Demo­cratic sup­port, Trump was able to punt a tough con­ver­sa­tion on the debt ceil­ing into the new year last week; that vic­tory brought for­ward more di­a­logue with Demo­cratic lead­er­ship (as well as rank and file mem­bers) on ev­ery­thing from health­care to tax cuts to im­mi­gra­tion re­form. In par­tic­u­lar, the White House and con­gres­sional Democrats are said to be “very close” to a deal on the De­ferred Ac­tion for Child­hood Ar­rivals pro­gramme, which fur­nishes tem­po­rary work and ed­u­ca­tional visas to peo­ple who ar­rived in the coun­try il­le­gally as small chil­dren.

This new­found era of bi­par­ti­san gov­er­nance (al­most en­tirely ab­sent dur­ing Pres­i­dent Obama’s eight years) is be­ing cau­tiously ap­plauded in some cor­ners. The ide­o­log­i­cal pu­rity of the Tea Party turned the GOP into the party of “no”; is this, at last, its op­por­tu­nity to start say­ing yes?

I wouldn’t count on it. The trick of Trump’s new­found cross-party co-op­er­a­tion is that it’s not bi­par­ti­san at all – it’s tri­par­ti­san.

The pres­i­dent has ef­fec­tively left the Repub­li­can Party. He has no in­ter­est in lead­ing it or pro­mot­ing its val­ues.

His will­ing­ness to work with Democrats stems not from a de­sire to de­liver what he promised on the cam­paign trail, but a need to demon­strate that his pres­i­dency has been a suc­cess.

The cor­ner­stone of his ide­ol­ogy is win­ning ev­ery­where, all the time.

He be­lieves, for ex­am­ple, that glob­al­i­sa­tion leads to “los­ing”; thus his anti-trade, anti-im­mi­grant poli­cies. For the pres­i­dent, there is no greater war – just the cur­rent bat­tle.

Con­ser­va­tives are hor­ri­fied by the prospect of rais­ing the debt ceil­ing fur­ther with­out a plan to cut fu­ture out­lays, of com­bin­ing tax cuts with more gov­ern­ment spend­ing, of “fixing” Oba­macare in­stead of re­plac­ing it al­to­gether.

But Trump is not a con­ser­va­tive, nor is he a Repub­li­can. His al­le­giance (as I’m sure se­nior Democrats will learn in short or­der) is ul­ti­mately to him­self. Democrats are not co-op­er­at­ing with Repub­li­cans on leg­isla­tive is­sues: they are co-op­er­at­ing with a pres­i­dent from an un­named third party, an un­prece­dented sit­u­a­tion in US pol­i­tics.

Mr Trump spent long stretches of his adult life as a reg­is­tered Demo­crat and In­de­pen­dent; ap­par­ently, he se­ri­ously con­sid­ered run­ning on the In­de­pen­dent Party ticket in 2000.

At the time, he would have been ad­vised that third party runs are po­lit­i­cal sui­cide, be­cause the Elec­toral Col­lege is not equipped to han­dle more than two par­ties. His de­ci­sion to run as a Repub­li­can in 2016 was long-planned, and al­most cer­tainly in­formed by the knowl­edge that it was his best chance of land­ing in the Oval Of­fice.

Yet a third party has se­ri­ous mer­its. It would al­low each party to bet­ter de­fine their stances on the is­sues of the day (as the cur­rent sys­tem al­lows the Democrats to op­pose what­ever the Repub­li­cans want, and vice versa, with­out dis­cussing why).

It would also force peo­ple to speak in terms of pol­icy, not party. We can al­ready see this shift in­side the GOP.

Repub­li­cans are a house di­vided un­der Trump, and it is now nec­es­sary to iden­tify one­self as be­ing pro- or anti-glob­al­i­sa­tion or im­mi­gra­tion.

This has been trou­bling for some, who as­sumed that ev­ery­one in the big tent shared the same val­ues.

But hav­ing one’s fun­da­men­tal be­liefs chal­lenged is an ex­er­cise in fu­ture­proof­ing. Con­sid­er­ing that we all may well find our­selves on an alien po­lit­i­cal land­scape post-Trump, this is a valu­able ex­er­cise in­deed.

Molly Kiniry is a re­searcher at Le­ga­tum In­sti­tute

‘Trump is eight months into his pres­i­dency and has noth­ing to show for it. He has ef­fec­tively left the Repub­li­can Party… he has no in­ter­est in lead­ing it or pro­mot­ing its val­ues’

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