The Republicans in Congress failed on health-care reform. That means President Trump should look for new Democratic dance partners, a certain breed of hopeful centrist pundit will tell you. Even Trump himself is flirting with making new Democratic friends.
Well, I'm here to tell you he's not going to find any.
After Trump started to resent the conservative House Freedom Caucus for scuttling his quick ObamaCare rewrite, the president started to believe he could get the work done, and impose a little punishment on Republicans, by reaching out across the aisle. In this belief he was joined by the most sober and seasoned champions of "getting things done."
Columnist Clarence Page offers a representative example. He hoped that President Trump, bloated from the meal of crow he ate on health-care reform and gassed from the painfully slow start to his administration, would do the thing he wasn't willing to do before: Ask for Democratic help.
Amid Sunday's circular firing squad of finger-pointing and recriminations, Trump offered to work with (gasp!) Democrats to push through his future policies. In fact, this is an opportunity for Trump to revive the hope he raised during his campaign that, since he worked across party lines before he became a candidate, maybe he'll do it as president. [Chicago Tribune]
It's not just the sensible editorial page moderates who want to see Trump make a big bipartisan gesture. Even some of Trump's alt-right fan base is hoping for the same. Some of Trump's most radical and racist fans are calling for Trump to truly break our ideological categories and propose a full single-payer health-care system. Their thinking is that it would break the grip of libertarian economics on the GOP. And that by giving Democrats everything they want on health care, it would leave the left with little of material value to agitate for but unpopular social engineering, or favors for wealthy limousine liberals.
This is nothing more than wishful thinking.
Of all people, the disgraced former House Majority Leader Tom DeLay had the most insight. Delay called Trump's sudden desire to work with Democrats "a rookie mistake." And he's exactly right. In an age of ideologically polarized parties, a president's affiliation matters. And it matters to the opposition. Democrats have a kind of gift in Trump, in that he's almost proven everything they ever said about Republicans, that their high church conservative rhetoric was a mask for hiding their true motivation, racial animus. Trump proves that conservatives' family values rhetoric was cynical! Democrats don't need to work with Trump. The Trump presidency is already working for Democrats.
Elected Democrats have only learned one thing since Trump's election: They cannot oppose Trump enough for their base voters. After initial flirtations from Nancy Pelosi and Chuck Schumer, Democrats rapidly found out that their supporters wanted them to oppose every one of Trump's Cabinet nominees, use every means to block his preferred Supreme Court justice, investigate every person Trump ever met that had an admiring thought about Russia, and — if possible — get Trump removed from office. Democrats like Elizabeth Warren and Kirsten Gillibrand, who signaled their all-out opposition, were richly rewarded by activists, donors, and even the press.
And Trump has given them no reason to reconsider that. He is profoundly unpopular for a recently elected president. Trump may get a few Democratic votes on infrastructure projects, if they contain enough spending in Democratic states and districts. But he's not going to get cooperation on health care, immigration reform, or extra help filling out the many vacancies in his administration.
Ultimately, if Trump is going to get anything done between now and 2020, he has to patch things up with his own party — you know, the one that controls the rest of the federal government. His union with the GOP is the one marriage that he can't escape.