Trump and the Democrats: What's next: a deal with Bernie?

Mr. Trump's wild ride: Will he support Sanders' "Medicare for all" next? How much more will his supporters stand?

Published September 15, 2017 5:00AM (EDT)

Nancy Pelosi, Chuck Schumer   (Getty/Aaron P. Bernstein)
Nancy Pelosi, Chuck Schumer (Getty/Aaron P. Bernstein)

There’s no way of knowing whether President Donald Trump is deliberately choosing to infuriate his base or if it’s completely by accident. Either way, there weren’t many happy faces among the ranks of Trump supporters on Thursday after it was announced that Trump had apparently inked another major legislative deal -- not with congressional Republicans, but instead with Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi. The deal assures Democratic votes for making permanent President Obama’s Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) order, as well as for spending on further border security measures.

The way the announcement was rolled out, with the phrase “excluding the wall” circulating social media, it gave the false impression that Trump had suddenly abandoned his big beautiful wall on the Mexican border, having previously abandoned his infamous pledge to force Mexico to pay for it. Consequently, Trump’s disciples were immediately repulsed by the terms of the deal.

Even after it became clear that the wall is a separate and distinct issue and that Trump will continue to pursue funding for his dream scheme, it was already too late. Right away, the word went out from everyone on the Trump side, from Sean Hannity to Ann Coulter to Rep. Steve King of Iowa to that Trump had caved on amnesty -- in fact, Breitbart dubbed the president “Amnesty Don,” a nickname that’s bound to stick. The fear among Trump’s base is that he’s abandoned his core supporters -- shedding his orange lizard skin and metamorphosing into a Pelosi Democrat.

Obviously, most Normals don’t believe Trump is anything other than the same disruption-addicted monster he’s always been. It’s just that now, with two Democratic deals on the front burner, including the DACA deal and the debt ceiling deal from a week ago, Trump is deploying his knack for being an incompetent, obnoxious jerk against his own people this time. (By the way, these deals could also indicate that Schumer and Pelosi have discovered some sort of jiu-jitsu to manipulate Trump into siding with them. We shouldn’t rule that out.)

Meanwhile, it seems as though Trump has determined that he can cut deals with the congressional Democrats without any blowback -- it’s the old “I could stand in the middle of Fifth Avenue and shoot somebody” canard. He believes he’s invincible when it comes to the loyalty of his googly-eyed rally crowds. And he might be right. The same goes for Trump's seemingly unwavering support among the congressional GOP, given how various Republicans have distanced themselves from him publicly only to vote for him last November or to vote with him on the Hill.

If Trump is right and his base is stronger than we think, perhaps there’s a chance for the president to pull another Nixon-to-China maneuver. Rewinding 45 years, Richard Nixon, with his notorious record of anti-communism, was perhaps the only living politician who could’ve reached out to Chinese leader Mao Zedong in 1972 without serious political repercussions. A Democrat or liberal Republican reaching out to China would’ve been pegged as soft on communism, but Nixon was pretty well immune from such an attack.

Likewise, only Trump could cut a bipartisan deal protecting immigrant Dreamers, and maybe Trump is the only president who could cut a bipartisan deal on Medicare for All, especially now that fellow populist Bernie Sanders has introduced it in the Senate with the support of 15 other Democrats, including Al Franken and Elizabeth Warren. Back in 2008, President Obama internally toyed with the idea, but moderate Democrats as well as Republicans would’ve balked, so Obama instead went with the framework for the Affordable Care Act, given its support among moderates on the Hill. If Trump were to back Sanders' legislation, it’d be difficult for Republicans and moderates to walk away, knowing the loudness of Trump’s base.

As with many legislative initiatives and issues, Republican voters tend to run away from anything that’s proposed by liberals and Democrats simply because liberals and Democrats, in their worldview, are weak and can’t be trusted. With a Republican president backing Medicare for All, GOP voters might be more inclined to support it. Politics aside, they’d absolutely benefit from such a program and its considerable savings over private health insurance.

With the DACA deal, Trump has at least partially allowed the GOP to be linked to Latino outreach, which will be important on future election days. The same could be said for a Medicare for All deal, allowing the Republicans to co-opt some of the Democrats’ health care reform plank after Trump’s side of the aisle failed so miserably to repeal the Affordable Care Act.

But here’s the big downside for Trump, health care deal or not. By stumbling into another deal with the Democrats, Trump is seriously testing the loyalty of his 36-percenters -- the voter demographic that still approves of his presidency.

If Trump's Fifth Avenue rule turns out to be less robust than he thinks, he may have pushed one giant step closer to impeachment, given that Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and House Speaker Paul Ryan are still, for now, the collective gatekeepers between the president and a colossal investigative effort that could end with his removal from office. Trump will need the votes of the Republicans he’s presently infuriating, be they in the House where articles of impeachment are introduced and passed or in the Senate where a potential trial would take place.

Simply put: If Trump ends up shifting to the left on further issues, it’ll be great for the nation but terrible for Trump. The left will never support this unapologetic ghoul, and in the end Republicans won't support a liberal-leaning president, forcing them to shift their adoring gaze in the direction of Vice President Mike Pence.

This is all to suggest that Trump is screwed no matter what he does at this point, and it’s chiefly because he doesn’t know a damn thing about politics. He thinks he does, which only amplifies his amateurish concept of how D.C. tends to function. While some pundits are congratulating Trump for this pair of deals, they’re failing to acknowledge that he is in danger of committing political suicide.

By Bob Cesca

Bob Cesca is a regular contributor to Salon. He's also the host of "The Bob Cesca Show" podcast, and a weekly guest on both the "Stephanie Miller Show" and "Tell Me Everything with John Fugelsang." Follow him on Facebook and Twitter. Contribute through LaterPay to support Bob's Salon articles -- all money donated goes directly to the writer.