Over the past forty years, Donald Trump has styled himself as many men: master builder and magic marketer, inconvenient truth-teller, savvy gamer of the system, politically incorrect provocateur. But no role has been more central to his identity than that of peerless deal-maker – until the first frustrating months of his presidency smudged the luster off that gilded brand.
So it shouldn’t be surprising that Trump has in the last week sought to strike deals where he can find them – with Democrats – even if many of his aides, supporters and Republicans in Congress think that means he’s looking for love in all the wrong places. In fact, Trump’s recent outreach to Chuck Schumer and Nancy Pelosi is more readily explainable in terms of the president’s ego and psyche than it is in terms of any considered political or legislative strategy.
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“I think he feels he got burned so bad in the first seven months by the Republican leadership and their inability to do anything that if he wants to get accomplishments on infrastructure or taxes or DACA, that the only way to do it is to work with the leaders of the Democratic Party,” said former Ray LaHood, a former Republican congressman and Transportation Secretary under President Barack Obama, referring to the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program that has let young illegal immigrants avoid deportation. “The first seven months were just simply a joke.”
It remains to be seen whether Trump’s agreement with Democratic congressional leaders to raise the debt ceiling – and a more tentative plan to preserve the DACA program while increasing border security – is the beginning of a new period of accomplishment or merely the latest predictably unpredictable act of a presidency that has been defined by the same. But at a stroke, the president seized control of the Beltway narrative, upended conventional wisdom about his intentions and perhaps his abilities, and has seemed to relish the feeling.
“It’s always risky imputing strategy or a change in interest in policy with Trump,” said Thomas Mann, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution and co-author of the new book, “One Nation After Trump: A Guide for the Perplexed, the Disillusioned, the Desperate and the Not-Yet Deported.” “My guess is that he didn’t like the vibes about a first year empty of accomplishments and decided Paul Ryan and Mitch McConnell had led him astray. So he’s rolling the dice, making nice with Chuck and Nancy, hoping to bag a deal or two, shake things up, change the media narrative, get attention away from the Russia investigation. But he hasn’t thought anything through to the next steps. He’s improvising as he goes, relying on his gut, looking for emotionally satisfying cable news coverage.”