It’s amazing what one short-term spending bill can do to transform a president.
Days after President Trump pulled the rug out from underneath the congressional Republican leadership and signed off on a Democratic proposal to tie Hurricane Harvey disaster relief to a three-month extension of the debt limit and funding for the federal government, the nation’s political pundits have discovered a new Trump.
According to the Associated Press, “the Trump who’s emerged in full this past week” is
“the independent Donald Trump . . . unbound by ideology and untethered by party allegiances.” Peter Baker from The New York Times took a similar view, arguing rather grandiosely that Trump has shown that “he is, in many ways, the first independent to hold the presidency since the advent of the current two-party system around the time of the Civil War.”
Elsewhere, Trump was described as a nonideological president who, in the words of Robert Costa, “isn’t a Republican or a Democrat. He’s a freewheeling transactional pol who looks for wins.”
Now, keep in mind, this verdict on Trump came the same week that his attorney general called for winding down DACA, which could potentially lead to the deportation of more than 800,000 unauthoritzed immigrants, the vast majority of whom are nonwhite (which is not a coincidence).
It came a little more than a week after Trump began a push for a massive tax cut that would primarily benefit wealthy Americans and is consistent with decades of conservative orthodoxy. It also comes at the same time that his administration is actively undercutting Obamacare and is slashing outreach efforts to encourage uninsured Americans to sign up for coverage.
If one wants to take a broader view, these predictions of a possible Trump pivot and shift in governing agenda, come after eight months in which Trump selected a Cabinet full of ideological conservatives, who have governed almost exclusively as ideological conservatives.
It comes months after he proposed a budget that brutally slashed government spending, in particular social safety net programs. Indeed, on everything from defense spending and business regulation to environmental protection, civil rights and antipoverty spending, Trump has governed in a manner consistent with a modern conservative Republican. It’s the reason why GOPers in Congress have voted with Trump 94 percent of the time and he enjoys 80 percent support among rank-and-file Republicans (and 31 percent among independents).
Trump was elected as a Republican, while running on a traditional Republican agenda, and he has outsourced policy to conservatives. In fact, on the few campaign issues on which Trump strayed from conservative orthodoxy — like trade, military intervention, and cutting social insurance programs like Medicare and Medicaid — he has backtracked as president. But that doesn’t mean he has any interest in policy issues. Trump stabbed congressional Republicans in the back this week because, quite simply, he doesn’t care about nor understand the policy implications of what he did.
Indeed, the only consistent element of this president, aside from policies that cruelly target minority Americans, is one of unstable, narcissistic, impulsive behavior focused almost exclusively on his press coverage. The most revealing element of this recent deal is Trump’s phone call to Senate minority leader Chuck Schumer and House minority leader Nancy Pelosi, in which he proudly told them “the press” on the agreement “has been incredible.”
There is one — and only one motivating factor — that drives Trump’s behavior: ego. That’s it. There ain’t nothing else. This has been patently obvious for not just months or weeks, but years. That journalists and pundits continue to place Trump on some ideological spectrum or try to interpret his actions as being driven by anything other than his fragile self-confidence and constant, crippling need for validation is a collective act of self-denial.
This is who Trump is and who he will always be. He will never pivot and he will never change. Journalists can dig through that pile as long as they want. They will never find a pony.Michael A. Cohen’s column appears regularly in the Globe. Follow him on Twitter @speechboy71.