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