Trust Deficit

Trump’s Last Chance to Make Friends With Schumer

The president gets, for the moment anyway, how much trouble he’s in for having placed his fate in the hands of his adopted party.

The Washington Post/Getty

Nothing exposed President Donald Trump as adrift at sea more than his performance Tuesday evening at his first White House reception for the Senate just after his epic failure to repeal Obamacare.

Cradling a hand-held mike, he promised a quick new health-care bill, “an easy one,” and marveled over all the “semi-bipartisan” friends in the room, 16 Democrats among the 56. He showered love on one in particular. “We are going to have some very good relationships,” he announced. “I see Chuck,” he said, ignoring those on his own team to show love to Minority Leader Chuck Schumer. “Right, Chuck?” he asked in a lilting voice.

He then moved right in front of him and purred: “Hello, Chuck.”

It’s way too late for Trump to have Schumer at hello. A few weeks ago, Trump called Schumer a crybaby for tearing up over the immigrant travel ban. He fired the Senator’s former aide, U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York Preet Bharara, after saying he wouldn’t. And he called Schumer a clown.

But Trumps clumsy extension of an olive branch is a sign that he gets, for the moment anyway, how much trouble he’s in for having placed his fate in the hands of his adopted party.

He’s canny and clever but he’s punching above his weight in the White House having until now run only a family company without a board or shareholders to answer to. His needs are simple. He’s yearning to be recognized for the great man he knows himself to be—the Mount Rushmore worthy president lurking beneath the Queens real estate developer.

He’s a dealmaker who doesn’t speak the arcane language of reconciliation or political horse-trading. He’s used to peering across the negotiating table at a person with the straightforward goal of walking away with more money than he walked in with but instead encounters the hydra-headed behemoth of Congressional Republicans whose multiple opaque motives are hard for him to fathom, let alone credit.

But he does know when he’s been fed a bill of goods. Too late, he saw he’d staked his young presidency on strangers like Speaker Paul Ryan, a chipper Boy Scout from Janesville he never liked, who presented him with a bill crammed with tax cuts for the wealthy, the precise opposite of the pledge he made to the welder in Michigan to lower his family’s health care costs with a benefit package he would love. Ryan told Trump to go all out to support it or else. He did, which he brought him to this unhappy pass.

Meanwhile Trump spent another week substituting motion for progress, hosting meetings with disparate groups ranging from female CEOs to the fraternal order of police—who disappointed him when they warned his funding cuts to sanctuary cities would drive crime up, not down. His rollback of clean air and water regulations will have us buying surplus surgical masks from the Chinese—suddenly the world’s leaders in green technology production. He’s poised to sign a bill to remove rules that keep Internet providers from selling the personal information they glean from monitoring your web browsing.

In other bad news, Trump’s son-in-law has been summoned to Capitol Hill to be grilled about a meeting with a Russian “banker” while House Intelligence Chair, Devon Nunes, Trump’s obsequious ally on investigations into Putin’s election hacking, has shown he’s a bumbling boob who’s can’t keep a story straight. Now comes Michael Flynn, given immunity on Thursday, likely to spill his borscht Trump also found himself having to assert his own immunity under the Supremacy Clause which his lawyers argue shields him from a slander lawsuit brought by a former Apprentice contestant who he called a liar after she alleged he forced himself on her.

Good news would be if he’s hit bottom with a frighteningly low 36 percent favorability rating.

In this hot mess, there aren’t enough hours in the day to sort through the competing factions in his own White House who daily spill their guts to the dishonest media, nor enough family members, even if Tiffany should join, to protect him. Exposed as one of the losers he hates, ” he is reconsidering who it is he should be cutting deals with.

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On Thursday morning Ryan expressed his fear it won’t be him. He told CBS’s Nora O’Donnell that the health care debacle will “push the president into working with Democrats, he’s been suggesting as much.” Trump may, but Ryan will never, see that what we need is a minor bipartisan tune-up to Obamacare. .

Tuesday, the White House announced that Ivanka, who insisted for months she would be a daughter, never an adviser, will move into a prized West Wing office as an unpaid employee to avoid violating ethics and nepotism laws. She’ll either cut through the madness or be one more power center creating additional chaos. Someday Press Secretary Sean Spicer may demand she turnover her cell phone for a leak check.

Trump will remain in search of someone to trust who knows how to play his populist game and who can save him lurching from ideological purists like strategist Steve Bannon who wants to tear it all down to trickle-down technocrats like Ryan who want to turn it all over to free marketeers who will reverse the New Deal, and pragmatists like Reince Priebus who just want to get through another day with their jobs intact.

Trump’s plaintive words to Schumer this week didn’t move the Democrat, who announced he will filibuster his Supreme Court nominee. Trump’s best hope on that front may be Sen. Mitch McConnell. Yes, he’s a killjoy sourpuss, but he has several advantages over Schumer. First, he’s the majority, not minority, leader, and of the party Trump says he belongs to. McConnell is a grownup’s grownup who can teach Trump how a bill becomes a law and steer the House away from authoring another piece of unpassable dreck and towards something useful on taxes and infrastructure.

If Trump heeds McConnell and stops tweeting, the Majority Leader might find some loose change under the sofa cushions in his office and appropriate it for the Wall.