If you follow national news to any extent, you know that ever since he began his run for the White House, there have been major tensions – and sometimes outright warfare – between Donald Trump and the more traditionally conservative establishment of the Republican party. You also know that these tensions have grown lately as the President has expressed his frustration with the failure of pillars of that establishment – the party’s leadership in Congress – to push through repeal of President Obama’s healthcare law, even though they enjoy majorities in both House and Senate.
What you may not know, because it’s attracted almost no attention, is that compelling evidence has just appeared showing that Mr. Trump is winning this battle hands down.
The evidence comes in the form of a Wall Street Journal/NBC News poll that, among other questions, asked of voters who consider themselves Republicans or Republican “leaners” whether they considered themselves “to be more of a supporter of Donald Trump or more of a supporter of the Republican Party?” The Trump supporters outnumbered the GOP loyalists by a whopping 58 percent to 38 percent.
Moreover (although neither news organization) has released the exact numbers, both groups of Republican and GOP-leaning voters approve of Mr. Trump’s decision to work with the Democrats to postpone a budget and debt ceiling debate-driven closing of the U.S. government while not permitting the impasse block aid for hurricane-stricken states. That can’t be good news either for Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky or House Speaker Paul Ryan of Wisconsin. Nor is the finding that both groups approve of Mr. Trump’s (still) hard line on immigration – mainly because McConnell and Ryan and nearly the entire corporate funded GOP/conservative think tank complex and consultant crowd has long favored labor-cheapening Open Borders policies.
None of this is news to Ryan, at the least. Right after last November’s election, he told the media that the shocking Trump win had helped the Republicans keep control of Congress. In the wake of this admission, what’s been most surprising to me is how often and strongly the President has worked to achieve mainstream Republican goals that are of relatively little interest to his base at best and could well harm them economically – like an “Obamacare” repeal and a harshly austere federal budget. (You could add globalist and even neoconservative foreign policy positions in Afghanistan, the Middle East, and elsewhere to this list.)
My initial explanation was that Mr. Trump had calculated that, given how so many Democrats had opted for “resistance” mode, he’d need to attract some mainstream Republican support for various agenda items like trade, immigration, and infrastructure building, and therefore decided to throw this group some bones on other issues. Then I ventured that the President needed to maintain cordial relations with the Congressional Republicans and keep pandering selectively to the more traditionally conservative portion of the GOP base in order to secure their votes in any impeachment proceedings. Although “Russiagate” and the various investigations it’s spawned have largely been relegated to the back pages recently, I’m sure these considerations are still motivating the President.
After all, don’t forget that Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s probe is proceeding apace, it’s difficult to predict what he’ll find, and impeachment can be a purely political exercise – meaning that it doesn’t require a finding of the “high crimes and misdemeanors” listed in the Constitution as impeachment justifications, but never defined. (“Treason” and “bribery” are also Constitutionally impeachable offenses and clearer in their meaning, but there’s bound to be disagreement over exactly what kinds of actions qualify.)
And yet the President seems happy to return to the rhetorical warpath against leading House and Senate Republicans at the drop of a hat.
I suspect that this pattern of warmer and colder relations between Mr. Trump and the establishment wing of his party will continue as long as the impeachment threat hangs over his head — and partly because the President seems to take special pleasure in keeping both allies and adversaries off balance. But the Wall Street Journal/NBC poll makes clearer than ever that, leaving impeachment politics aside, and for the time being, the brand of ideologically impure nationalist populism epitomized by Mr. Trump during the campaign in particular will be the new face of American Republicanism.