Remember the good old Obama Administration, the one the Republicans accused of treason and fascism and abuse of power because the president had the audacity to use…executive orders? That’s when America was great, right? Congress obstructed the president from improving people’s lives so he leaned on the only legal authority he had to run the country.
Now we have a president (shudder) who can only use executive orders to get things done, and the GOP naysayer whistle-blowers are blowing smoke. They all-of-a-sudden love Trump’s use of orders to undo what they consider to be outrageous acts of governmental control like net neutrality or protecting consumer privacy or allowing states and local governments to set up retirement accounts for people who don’t have them at work or clamping down on pollution and coal-belching plants that spew noxious fumes into the atmosphere.
Imagine what this president could do with a Republican majority Congress.
And that’s exactly the point. He obviously does have a majority. The problem is that he has no power base. This is why Trump will be hard pressed to get much done during the catastrophe that will be the next three years and nine months.
Power comes from influence, fear, a united group that sees a way forward and leadership that uses its moral, ethical and electoral mandates to move legislation through the congress. Donald Trump has very little of any of this. And he’s no LBJ. Trump was opposed by the party regulars and the conservative wing that actually had some ideas written down. He was opposed by right-leaning news outlets, many of which wrote that he didn’t have the personality or character to be an effective president. And of course, he was opposed by a majority of voters on election day, which makes it extraordinarily difficult for him to claim any kind of mandate for his platform.
We were told that he was a master negotiator and a strong personality who could persuade legislators and world leaders if only he could get them into a room to negotiate with him. We were told that he would be pragmatic and try to get the best deal possible. We were told that he would strong arm recalcitrant lawmakers into seeing that if they didn’t support him they would face some unlovely music at the ballot box come 2018.
You can stop laughing now.
What we have instead, and the Republicans in Congress now know this, is a president who lacks the knowledge of policy necessary to make deals. In the health care debacle, Trump was throwing ideas and promises around simply to appease the conservatives. The law he was fighting for was a disaster by any measure. He made threats; the GOP stalwarts ignored them. He fulminated on Twitter, then caved. The country is better off. For now.
But the die has been cast. Trump does not have the negotiating skills or the knowledge or the leverage necessary to get difficult laws through this Congress. He’s decided to move on to tax reform, which makes repealing the ACA akin to the niceties of a PTA meeting. The health care debate didn’t affect a vast majority of Americans, but taxes will. And each tax and each deduction has an interest group and lobbyists behind it. Plus, the windfall the GOP thought they would have from the ACA repeal is nowhere to be found. Congressional leaders have little to fear from a man who’s going to make a habit of leading from behind. The fight over tax reform will take longer, and we know that Trump has no attention span beyond the next news cycle. What will he do with all that time?
At some point in the near future, Republicans running in 2018 will need to make the critical decision about whether they will continue to follow Trump through the maze he’s created, or whether they’re going to go their own way and render him even more superfluous. If they don’t fear him, I can say with reasonable certainly that there will be a further split in the party. The result will not be pretty.