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You can almost see it in your mind if you try. The cartons of Chinese takeout. The torn blisters of soy sauce. Nancy Pelosi, former swimsuit model, laughing at The Donald’s off-color jokes. About Mitch McConnell. Or Paul Ryan. While Chuck fills color of his own, about deals he helped The Donald put together back in New York. Stuff that didn’t make it into The Art of the Deal or The Art of the Comeback.
If you can imagine that White House scene, you can imagine another scene. In a dark, oak-paneled Washington bar. Old Ebbitt Grill. In a back room, away from prying eyes sit Mitch and Paul. Scowling. Wondering. Plotting. Plotting how to get back at The Donald. Get back at The Donald for cutting deals with the Democrats. With those Democrats. The worst Democrats. “The very Democrats who want our jobs!” croaks Mitch.
Paul examines is shrimp and steak, mixing some food around with his gigantic fork, the kind of fork you expect to get in a dark, old, oak-paneled bar in Washington, DC. “You were right, Mitch,” Paul says without looking up. “He just doesn’t understand how Washington works.”
Back in 2015 while I was still trying to understand why my otherwise reasonable friends were falling in love with Trump, I asked a lot of questions. Actually, I ask only one question. But I asked a lot of people. And I asked some of them more than once. “Why Trump?”
The most common answer: “he doesn’t need the job.”
The second most common: “he knows how to make a deal.”
The third most common: “he tells it how it is.”
Remember when Trump cut the deal for Harvey relief with Chuck and Nancy? I wrote in “The Strategy That Dare Not Speak Its Name“:
By now you’ve heard that President Trump struck a deal with Nancy Pelosi and Chuck Schumer. Trump struck a deal to raise the debt ceiling. Trump struck a deal by going around Congressional Republicans. Trump struck a deal with Democrats.
That was before his dinner with Chuck and Nancy. The dinner about DACA. I predicted that the Harvey deal was only the first. I had no idea the second would come so soon. But soon it did.
I attended an acting workshop at Washington University in 1981. One of the classes was about timing. The instructor used as an example a duel in the old west.
He asked for a student volunteer to play one of the duelers. The student was not to shoot first. He played the scene three ways.
- First, he waited about 10 seconds, then he shot the student with his finger, yelling “bang.” This was drama.
- Next, he waited about 30 seconds. He never shot, actually. Everybody laughed at the ridiculousness of the duelers staring at each other for so long. This was comedy.
- In the third treatment, as the student was about to count his last pace, the instructor spun around yelled “bang.” Everyone was shocked. A few people gasped. This was terror.
By moving so quickly to strike a second deal with Democrats, Trump terrorized the GOP establishment (GOPe). Terrorized. And for good reason: the GOP establishment is replaceable. Replaceable, not with Tea Party or Freedom Caucus types, but with Democrats.
The whole GOP establishment in Congress knows it’s expendable. And Mitch and Paul are coming to realize their threat will not come from the far right or the far left. Their threat will come from their base: the middle.
Power Is Perception
The Freedom Caucus lacks the numbers to take down the Speaker. And the small number of ideological conservatives in the Senate have no power to influence the majority leader. As long as Paul and Mitch have the GOPe on their sides, they’re safe.
The GOPe in Congress has a single, unifying mission: to raise enough money to win re-election. Or to move up to higher office. That’s it.
Normally, a president of your party makes your re-election safer. The president will help you raise money. The president will help you look good. The president will encourage the right votes for you to show your constituents “I’m one of you, and I keep my promises.”
But what happens when the president makes deals with the other party? What happens when he ignores your Congressional leaders and works with the opposition’s leaders?
If you’re a rank-and-file “happy to be here” Republican go-along-to-get-along type, you panic. You panic because you realize the leaders you elected have no power. No power to influence the president. No power to help your re-election. No power to reward your donors.
And what happens when go-along-to-get-along (GATGA) Congressmen see their re-election threatened? They move to where the power is.
Deals Are Powerful
Right now, the power in Washington resides in three people: Donald, Chuck, and Nancy. The GATGA in the GOP are poring over polls this weekend. Polls that tell them whether Trump’s base is okay with The Donald’s deals. Polls that will determine the GATGA’s next move.
If the polls show Trump’s base abandoning him, GATGA will double-down on Mitch and Paul.
But if those polls show Trump’s base holding firm, GATGA will rush to join the Donald, Chuck, and Nancy show.
You’ll know which way things are going by last this week.
GATGA types won’t overthrow their leadership. Not unless it’s an extreme case. More likely, they’ll call a caucus meeting. A meeting of GOPe and GATGAs. No conservatives.
At that caucus meeting, the GATGAs will give Paul and Mitch sobering news: “do whatever it takes, but we want to have Chinese food with the president. And Chuck and Nancy.”
I said I’d be okay with Trump switching parties. I’d still support him. I think he’s smarter and more determined that all the GOPe and GATGA combined.
Trump is okay with looking like a fool. In the short term. While you’re mocking his stupid tweet, though, he’s onto his next move. Trump is always a step ahead.
Trump is onto his next move now. I don’t know what it is, and neither do you. Nor does Ann Coulter. But Trump’s already on it. Just waiting for the GATGA to join him. As soon as they see those polls.
If you’re wondering what those polls will show, think about the reasons my friends supported Trump. He doesn’t need the job. He knows how to make a deal. And he tells it like it is.
Which is why Trump said in 2015 that he could shoot somebody on Fifth Avenue and none of his supporters would leave him. Love him, in fact.
He was right.
Also published on Medium.