Presiden t Trump wasn’t exaggerating when he recently referred to himself in a tweet as “the ratings machine, DJT.” His presidency is but a few days old, and it is already The Greatest Show on Earth. He opened with an inaugural address in which he scorned the former presidents and current elected officials who sat stone-faced at his feet in a chilly rain, saying his predecessors “reaped the rewards of government while the people have borne the cost”; inspired a massive, nationwide protest larger than any since the 1960s; and is now taking us all on an epistemological inquiry into what is knowable and what is not. Who can look away? But of all the myriad subplots, the one that will be of greatest consequence to how the new president fares over the next year is his uneasy marriage to Republicans in Congress.
Trump’s agenda overlaps with theirs in many areas, so Congress has strong incentive to avoid angering him. But Trump is a populist, not a traditional conservative, and he will go his own way on restricting trade, issuing edicts and threats to private corporations, partnering with Russia, and spending billions on infrastructure and The Wall. In his inaugural, Trump decreed that his election means “the people” are now “the rulers of this nation”; senior adviser Kellyanne Conway is warning House Speaker Paul Ryan and other Republicans against “second-guessing or undercutting” the president, saying they’d better “follow Mr. Trump’s lead, because he won many of their states.” Got that? For now, small-government Republicans will not risk the threat of a thermonuclear Twitter attack. But sooner or later, the cracks in this relationship will widen into open disagreement. “There are some of us who will be pushing to get back to the roots of the party,” Sen. Jeff Flake of Arizona said this week. When he and other mavericks make a stand, it’s not hard to predict how Trump will respond. Hang on to your seats; as they say in showbiz, you ain’t seen nothing yet.