Donald Trump’s presidential campaign was one of the most unusual in history. A true outsider, he ran on the premise that Washington, D.C. was irredeemably corrupt, a swamp in need of draining. So, while he ran as a Republican and won that party’s nomination, he remained an outsider within the organization.
Now, more than seven months into his presidency, Trump appears more isolated than ever. The uneasy alliance forged between the insurgent and the GOP establishment has faced constant strain.
The doomed effort to repeal Obamacare revealed deep fissures within the GOP, divisions that existed before Trump came on the scene. Yet his inept handling of the repeal effort has torn those fissures into canyons, and separated the White House from the GOP majority in both houses of Congress.
With Trump as ready to eviscerate GOP Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell as he is his Democratic opponents, he looks like a president without a party.
While he carries the Republican label, and still enjoys high approval among Republican voters, the President has opened a deep rift with the other power centers of the party of which he is nominally the head.
It is easy enough to see how this isolation came about. With the White House a veritable revolving door of appointees, it’s almost easy to forget the original makeup of his administration.
From the start, Trump set up competing power centers. Steve Bannon, ousted last week from his position of Chief Strategist, was the ideologue of the administration, promoting the economic nationalism and racially-tinged politics that have afflicted Trump’s young presidency.
Yet, while Bannon represented the brand of conservative populism that propelled Trump to the Oval Office, he found himself in a constant battle for the soul of the administration with at least three other power centers: The staid and experienced cohort of generals in the cabinet and West Wing, the President’s influential (and principally familial) inner circle, and a group of traditional Republican officials.
The lattermost group frequently appeared on the back foot. Chief of Staff Reince Priebus faced constant speculation about the future of his job virtually from the start, and was eventually ousted, along with Press Secretary Sean Spicer. These traditional Republicans were important for more than their particular jobs. They were also the conduit between the President and Congress. With them gone, Trump was left with a group of amateur ideologues, a quasi-apolitical general, and a set of close advisers with amorphous political views. The result has been the near total breakdown of the relationship between the Trump administration and the rest of the government.
More and more Republican leaders seem confident in making stands against their president. In the wake of Trump’s mealy-mouthed equivocation about racist violence in Charlottesville last week, numerous party leaders openly condemned him. It was the largest outcry from within the GOP since the leak of Access Hollywood audio that seemed to show Trump bragging about sexual assault.
What this all means for the Trump presidency is not yet clear.
With Bannon out, it is hard to say what the next iteration of internal power struggles will look like, or what the President will choose to prioritize over the coming months.
It is one of the iron laws of politics that political action in a pluralistic democracy, with numerous power centers and checks and balances, is extremely difficult in the absence of legislative support.
The Obama presidency faced a constant fight about its agenda after the Republicans began their retaking of Congress in 2010. He was able to work through executive action, and even occasionally through compromise with his opponents. Obama had the advantage of a coherent political agenda and a congressional delegation that supported him virtually without question, even when they were in the minority.
Trump, on the other hand, has so poisoned the well with Democrats that any talk of cross-party collaboration involving him seems doomed to failure. Worse still for his agenda (such as it is), Trump no longer can rely on the Republicans.
The presidency is a powerful institution, but without a legislative base it is extremely limited. Trump’s acting like a party of one will only isolate him further.
Latest posts by John Engle (see all)
- Libertarians Should Be Wary of Tax Reform – The Right Engle - January 15, 2018
- The Hate for GMO – The Right Engle - December 11, 2017
- Should We Bring Back the State Militias? – The Right Engle - November 27, 2017