If you’ve read any coverage of the government funding deal that President Donald Trump made with Democratic leaders, you’ll have probably come away with two related narratives. The first is that Republicans—the president’s party, it’s worth underscoring—hate this deal with a fiery passion and were “blindsided” and “shocked” by Trump’s decision to basically cave to the demands of the leaders of the minority party. The second is that Trump loves this deal, because it has gotten him the thing he has always not-so-secretly craved: the praise of mainstream pundits who opine from 6 to 9 a.m. every weekday, and also during Sunday brunch. “But hate-watching Morning Joe down in the White House residence, President Trump was feeling cocky,” Axios reports. “His surprise deal with Democratic leaders may create midterm headaches for his party, but it’s winning rave reviews from the academy.”
This has led to flirtations with a third conclusion: That this, at long last, represents the illusive Trump Pivot™. Pundits have been waiting for such a pivot ever since Trump became the clear frontrunner for the Republican nomination for the presidency—a moment when he would abandon his outright hate-mongering and nativism and swerve into a quieter, more politically acceptable lane of hate-mongering and nativism. Trump has broken with his party and he loves it, so he’ll break with his party again, right? Here’s Axios again, in an article titled “Trump’s next move: stick it to hardliners”:
It’s like a fictional movie scene: A president wins election with harsh, anti-immigration rhetoric, then moves to terminate protections for kids of illegal immigrants. He’s ridiculed on both sides for his heartlessness — but cheered by a band of white voters who helped put him in office. Then he suddenly realizes he looks like a cold-hearted jerk—and starts musing about going farther than President Obama got in providing permanent protections to those children of illegal immigrants.
In the last week, Trump has embraced Democrats and immigration reform. That’s a big deal! But in the last week, Trump has also kept up his push for massive tax cuts for the wealthy and for corporations and rescinded DACA (albeit with a six-month period to work out a deal). By every conceivable metric, Donald Trump is still Donald Trump. This is not a pivot—it never is.
However uncharacteristic, Trump’s response to both the debt ceiling and DACA was largely inevitable. He was caving to the political moment. That’s still significant given Trump’s unpredictability and habit of bridling. In the case of the debt ceiling, Trump simply took the best deal he could get—something that Mitch McConnell and Paul Ryan surely know. In the case of DACA, Trump is trying to thread a needle—appeasing his base while also spreading around responsibility so he can avoid the political damage that would follow if he axed the law immediately. Despite the deal with Democrats, Trump is just as isolated as ever. His relationship with Mitch McConnell is at breaking point and it’s not like Chuck and Nancy are going to be coming over for movie night any time soon.