‘You Always Hurt The One You Love’

Trump, congressional Republicans, crisis
President Trump delivers and address to Congress in a joint session on Feb. 28.

Association with President Donald J. Trump, it seems, comes at a price. Just ask Sean Spicer, Anthony Scaramouche, Paul Manafort, Jeff Sessions and a myriad of others who have been associated with President Trump and have now fallen out of favor.

Only six months into the Trump presidency we are finding that the president has loyalty only to his family unless that is, you are one of his wives. The pattern is so pervasive that we must now consider it a Standard Operating Procedure of this particular presidency. The president has a compulsive need to humiliate his associates.

Just because the president demands loyalty of his subordinates, does not mean that requirement applies to himself. I seriously doubt there is some strategic purpose to this behavior. That is why I refer to it as a compulsion. Whether this sort of tactic, throwing subordinates under the bus, works as a matter policy promotion remains to be seen, but it’s not looking good.

So it comes as no surprise that President Trump has now turned on one of his most loyal supporters in Congress, Senator Mitch McConnell. This comes in the aftermath of the dramatic vote to stop, at least for now, Mr. Trump’s effort to repeal and replace Obamacare. The deciding vote was cast, with just a hint of relish, by another Trump target, Senator John McCain. And that’s the problem with Mr. Trump’s penchant for humiliation. It won’t be effective when applied to Congress.

Congress doesn’t work for Mr. Trump. They are elected by the citizens of their own states. And the reelection rate of incumbents in Congress is exceptionally high. In fact, members of Congress are safer in their positions than the president is in his… and they don’t face term limits. They can simply wait for the President out.
Consequently the tactics that Trump uses with his subordinates in his businesses or at the White House, won’t work with Congress.

It would have been nice had the president chosen someone on his White House staff who had some working knowledge of Congress. But that wouldn’t have worked anyhow because the president has no self-control. Any useful advice on dealing with Congress would have probably been ignored.

Up to now, Republicans in Congress have been humoring the White House because they have a common policy purpose. In fact, the Trump presidency has presented Congress with an exceptional opportunity. Mr. Trump has shown remarkably little interest in the details of policy; leaving, in essence, the policy making function to Congress. This sort of open field for congressional policy making hasn’t occurred since the 19th century. And, it appears that the president in order to get a “win” will sign practically anything. Congressional Republicans are salivating at the thought.

But as with most of those who treat with Mr. Trump, their hopes have come to ruin. Policy making depends on presidential leadership and Mr. Trump is neither interested enough nor skilled enough to provide it. Now the president has turned on Mr. McConnell. It’s hard to believe that were he successful in deposing the Senate leader, a replacement would do any better. Because, in the end, President Trump’s problem with Congress isn’t Mr. McConnell, Paul Ryan, Mr. McCain or Ms. Murkowski, the problem is Mr. Trump.

Congressional Republicans will continue to work with Mr. Trump for as long as they find it useful. But it is now beginning to dawn on them that Mr. Trump’s support is not worth very much at all. And with the attack on Mr. McConnell, congressional Republicans now find that they, themselves, have been thrown under the bus. The problem is that “you’re fired” doesn’t work as a tactic when a president deals with Congress.