The Goodlatte-McCaul Immigration & Border Security bill, HR 4760, failed to pass a few minutes ago. I believe that Mr. Trump will gain more traction from the failure of both bills to pass and from the further weakened position of congressional Republicans as their majority starts looking like the majority that former president Barack Obama had in the first two years of his first term in office. I would go further and argue that the sweet spot for Donald Trump would be the finish the second half of his first term with at least one chamber of Congress under the control of Democrats.
While on the surface the disruption may seem abnormal or undesirable, disruption, as represented in a split Congress, disruption is what Americans should expect. A majority of interests cannot exist without a minority of interests. There is no such thing as congressional harmony. There cannot be harmony given the political goal of a party: to persuade the electorate that the party should have a monopoly on the power and prominence that comes with office. Mr. Trump, I believe, already had a sense of this going into office and the dysfunction of his party may have strengthened the rationale for his findings.
For example, take Obamacare. The premature consensus was that with majorities in both chambers, Mr. Trump would be able to move a repeal of the controversial Affordable Care Act through a friendly Congress. Pundits and constituents were wrong. The Affordable Care Act is still on the books thanks primarily to its provisions that extend care to children up to age 26 and its protection of consumers with pre-existing conditions. Mr. Obama put a bomb in the ACA that Republicans are now afraid to detonate.
Another example: tax reform. While the GOP was able to pass some measure of tax reform, the level of difficulty in getting a bill to Mr. Trump to sign caught Congress watchers off guard. Did Republicans doubt their chances so much in November 2016 that they started a new Administration and entered the 115th Congress with no coordinated plan?
It doesn’t help that the electorate does not look favorably on Congress. The average approval rating for Congress is 17%, according to a May 2018 Gallop poll. Among Democrats the approval rating is approximately 12% while Republicans hold Congress in slightly higher regard at 22%. The President’s approval rating is another matter.
According to Gallop, Mr. Trump’s current approval rating is approximately 45%, up from a low of 35% back in December 2017. While his overall approval rating gives him some cushion against the low view of his colleagues in Congress, what is being overlooked is his performance among independents and Democrats.
Mr. Trump’s approval rating among Republicans is 90%. No surprises there. Among independents, Mr. Trump’s current approval rating among independents is 45%. At the low point the approval rating among independents was 29% but has been hovering in the thirties throughout 2017 and 2018. Meanwhile, a small number of Democrats are flirting with the idea of liking Mr. Trump. While his favorable rating among Democrats has mostly been in the single digits, since his inauguration his weekly average favorable rating has been in the double digits twelve times. It is currently at 10%.
I see Mr. Trump having room to maneuver away from the congressional Republicans and while moving away from the party may seem disruptive, disruptive is the modus operandi in today’s economy. We hail disruptors like Elon Musk, Brian Chesky, and Garrett Camp for using technology to upend the electricity, hotel, and transportation industries. Mr. Trump is doing the same thing, albeit not with the smooth intellect of an Elon Musk.
He has shown no fear in governing as an executive, using the executive order option with no hesitation. And while his ability to transfer his deal making skills from the world of real estate to the game of thrones has taken heat, his negotiations with Kim Jong-Un could move him toward silencing critics.
Politics is about creating the political packages that win over the pawns necessary for winning the throne. Mr. Trump, so far, is beating the Democrats.