Donald Trump has become the Conor McGregor of American politics. For weeks tensions have been mounting in the capital of the free world as Republicans and Democrats prepared to square off over the debt ceiling and a government shutdown. The climactic showdown was supposed to take place at the White House yesterday. But in the end, Trump never put up much of a real fight. For all the huffing and puffing that preceded the meeting, Trump acceded to the demands of Senate minority leader Chuck Schumer and House minority leader Nancy Pelosi for raising the debt ceiling for a mere three months. Nebraska Senator Ben Sasse tweeted: ‘The Pelosi-Schumer-Trump deal is bad.’
Is this all part of a fiendish plot by Trump to emulate Bill Clinton and ‘triangulate’, as the American term has it, by playing off Republicans and Democrats against each other? A deliberate spanking administered by Trump to the congressional Republicans to remind them that he can pick up his marbles and play with another group of kids? Or was it simply an impulsive move on Trump’s part?
The truth is that no one really knows. One day Trump announces that Kim Jong-un is a ‘smart cookie’. Another he threatens to rain down ‘fury and fire’ on North Korea. One day he says that he’s pulling the rug out from underneath the dreamers—the children who landed in America and have never really lived anywhere else. Then he announces he’ll work out a solution with Schumer and Pelosi.
Meanwhile, on foreign policy, the word is that Trump’s United Nations ambassador Nikki Haley may replace the dolorous Rex Tillerson as Secretary of State. If so, this will be a nightmare scenario for the America Firsters who originally backed Trump. With her immaculate neocon bona fides, Haley could fundamentally reorient Trump administration foreign policy. Already a hardline faction clustered around former Trump adviser Steve Bannon is working to put the kibosh on such a move.
For Democrats, however, Trump is rapidly becoming the ideal president. He’s toxic to their base so they can continue to run against him in the hopes of reclaiming the majority in Congress. But given that his legislative prowess is nugatory, the Democrats will continue to seek to extract victories on immigration and spending.
Speaking of spending, any hopes that Republicans may have enjoyed about rolling back the federal deficit are being squelched by Hurricane Harvey, which deluged Texas, and Hurricane Irma, which looks like it may administer a knockout blow to Florida. If the storm also takes out Mar-a-Lago, the symbolism of Trump’s southern citadel in shambles will be hard to overlook.
Jacob Heilbrunn is editor of The National Interest