Albuquerque Journal

‘I told you so,’ conservati­ve Trump skeptics say

Dealing with Democrats, however, doesn’t bother rank-and-file supporters

- BY KATIE GLUECK MCCLATCHY WASHINGTON BUREAU

WASHINGTON — Last year, Texas Sen. Ted Cruz warned that if voters wanted to elect more Republican­s who would cut deals with Democratic leaders Nancy Pelosi and Chuck Schumer, “then I guess Donald Trump is your guy.”

This week, that’s what Trump did — and Never Trump conservati­ves say it’s just what they feared.

“This is exactly what Cruz and many of his supporters warned about,” said Amanda Carpenter, a former top aide to Cruz. “This would be a delicious schadenfre­ude sandwich if any conservati­ves had the appetite to eat it. It’s mostly sad.”

Trump’s deal-making this week with Schumer, the Senate minority leader, and Pelosi, the House minority leader, on the most important issue to his base — immigratio­n — has outraged some of his strongest supporters, including some at the hard-line outlet Breitbart, home to his former chief strategist, Steve Bannon. Conservati­ve commentato­rs such as Ann Coulter and Laura Ingraham are tweeting about Trump irately, and some activists are taking to Twitter to show off images of the campaign’s Make America Great Again hats on fire.

But Republican­s who have insisted for years that Trump is no conservati­ve say this turn to the Democrats was entirely predictabl­e.

“I was concerned about things like this; I am concerned about it,” said Brendan Steinhause­r, a Texas-based conservati­ve activist, speaking broadly of Trump dealing more closely with Democrats than his own party. “This is where Ted Cruz was right when he said (Trump) was going to cut deals with Nancy Pelosi and Chuck Schumer.”

“For people who are motivated by a certain set of ideas, principles, policies — yes, you’re going to be disappoint­ed by this president again and again,” Steinhause­r said.

Indeed, Trump, a former Democratic donor, has never hid the fact that he values making deals more than adhering to any particular ideology. But until recently, Trump’s upending of Republican orthodoxy had often played into the more nationalis­t, populist vision championed by Bannon, Breitbart and prominent talk radio figures.

To the delight of the burgeoning nationalis­t wing of the party, Trump’s campaign was centered on a hardline immigratio­n platform, with promises to build a large border wall, with Mexico paying for it, and to deport undocument­ed immigrants. His dramatic about-face this week — with Pelosi, no less, the ultimate conservati­ve boogeyman — felt like a shocking miscalcula­tion to some of his more ardent backers, if not to his longtime conservati­ve critics.

“If he goes soft on what his supporters believe is the defining issue of our time, I don’t know who’s going to be left to support him,” said one source close to the White House. “The idea that Trump can pivot to the middle and get Democrats across the country to like him — it’s fool’s gold.”

In the past, according to The New York Times, Bannon had described Trump as an “imperfect vessel” for the realignmen­t he was pushing, but one with whom he could work all the same, seeing his candidacy and then White House as the biggest platform yet for those ideals. Now, say some strategist­s, Schumer appears to see Trump in a similar way, for his own set of policy objectives.

“They both saw in him a vessel to work their viewpoint,” said Scott Jennings, a pluggedin GOP strategist. “For Bannon, he was a vessel, but a vessel to a longer-term political realignmen­t. For Schumer, it’s shortterm and transactio­nal. Today, he sees Trump not getting along with Mitch McConnell and Paul Ryan, he steps into the breach, understand­s Trump is driven, to some degree, by a desire for good press. What’s the fastest way to get good press? Align yourself with liberal Democrats. That’s what’s happening.”

Jennings said he didn’t think Schumer was “under any illusions that Trump is going to magically become what is essentiall­y a liberal Democratic president,” pointing in particular to Trump’s position on tax reform.

But he warned Trump not to underestim­ate the Democrats, even if they are willing to work with him for now: “For whatever happy memories Donald Trump has of dealing with Schumer and Pelosi, if they were to get control of either house of Congress, the subpoenas start flying. If they get control of both of them, articles of impeachmen­t will fly.”

Rick Tyler, a former spokesman for Cruz’s presidenti­al campaign, said there’s nothing wrong with negotiatin­g with Democrats — “so long as they are signing up to you, not you signing up to them. But this appears to be Donald Trump signing up to them.”

“I went on TV countless times saying Donald Trump is not a Republican, not a conservati­ve, doesn’t share our ideology, we can’t count on him, he’s not been down for the cause, so to speak,” Tyler said. Pointing to Trump’s past donations to Democrats and Trump’s own remarks indicating that he’s a deal-maker above all else, Tyler said: “That should have been a clarion warning for Republican­s and conservati­ves who hold a governing philosophy.”

The conservati­ve base knew all of this during the campaign, however. It didn’t matter then, and there are signs that it ultimately may not matter now, at least in terms of Trump’s standing with them. Interviews with conservati­ve activists across the country this week, as the immigratio­n news played out, revealed that many are much more comfortabl­e criticizin­g Congress than criticizin­g the president, and some are inclined to believe that intransige­nt Republican leadership forced him to deal with Democrats.

“The media is saying he can do nothing right, therefore the base is saying the president can do nothing wrong,” said one former senior campaign adviser, stressing that Trump’s standing with the conservati­ve base remains rock-solid, and that there is a circling-the-wagons effect. “It’s like saying, ‘Look, you want to come at him with everything and the kitchen sink? Well, guess what? We’re going to be the wall in front of him.’”

 ?? EVAN VUCCI/ASSOCIATED PRESS ?? President Donald Trump meets with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi and other congressio­nal leaders on Sept. 6.
EVAN VUCCI/ASSOCIATED PRESS President Donald Trump meets with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi and other congressio­nal leaders on Sept. 6.

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