President Donald Trump bucked many people’s expectations this week when he made an agreement with his political rivals, Democrats Nancy Pelosi and Chuck Schumer, over the debate on the extending debt ceiling.
Not only did Trump agree to a three-month fix on the issue — a plan that other Republican leaders like Speaker of the House Paul Ryan disagreed with — but the president also made a “gentleman’s agreement” with Sen. Schumer on the issue of removing the periodic need to have the debt ceiling raised by Congress at all.
Although the details have yet to be worked out, the idea is that the ceiling would be automatically raised every time Congress approved of new spending measures. This would eliminate the requirement of Congress to pass a separate debt limit bill, reducing the likelihood that our economy could be negatively affected by one party’s insistence on holding the ceiling hostage over a handful of issues.
That agreement between Schumer and Trump may hit a major roadblock, however, with Ryan: he’s essentially stated it’s not going to happen on his watch, defending the right of Congress to control the issue. “I think there is a legitimate role for the power of the purse and Article 1 powers, and that’s something we need to defend here in Congress,” he said, according to the Hill.
This back-and-forth is demonstrative of a Congress and president who are at odds with one another. And it isn’t just a single issue of disagreement — these are ideological arguments, between members of the same political party, which could signal that fissures that are much bigger are on their way.
Trump is an atypical president, and many already consider him a colossal failure as a commander-in-chief. His short tenure in office so far bears all the hallmarks of what some political scientists describe as a “disjunctive president.” He doesn’t adhere to the standard beliefs of the “old guard” (in this case, Reaganism); he campaigned on solving big problems, but his solutions were pie-in-the-sky answers that couldn’t likely get through Congress; he is a “loner” president, one who doesn’t have a huge list of allies in Congress; and he’s disrupting the agenda of the party itself.
Stephen Skowronek, the political scientist who came up with a theory that discusses what disjunctive presidents look like, actually predicted this outcome in the weeks after the November election. Dismissing the notion that Trump shared similarities with Andrew Jackson’s presidency, Skowronek concluded he was more in line with Jimmy Carter’s — the disjunctive president in the line of “New Deal” Democratic presidents.
In an interview with the Nation magazine, Skowronek explained himself:
The most profound thing said by Donald Trump was at the Republican National Convention in July: “I alone can fix it.” That was a tell-tale sign of what kind of president he will be. He was saying, “I’m not going to rely on my own party to do this.” That smacks of Jimmy Carter, who distanced himself from his fellow Democrats by asking, “Why not the best?”
But perhaps the most profound thing Skowronek said had to do with another figure in contemporary politics: Speaker Ryan. “If Trump is not Andrew Jackson, and if he is Jimmy Carter, then Paul Ryan is Ted Kennedy circa 1978,” he said.
The events of this week seem to align with that belief. Other actions, from additional conservative Republicans over the course of the year, have as well. The GOP’s reaction to Trump’s comments on Charlottesville demonstrate that they do not always stand lockstep behind their leader. Several Republicans are similarly skeptical of Trump’s associations with Russia during and before his presidential campaign. His firing of former FBI Director James Comey brought more splintering, and his move to end DACA pushed away even more of his party’s faithful away from him.
Ultimately, the question becomes this: who is the leader of the Republican Party? Is it Paul Ryan, or Donald Trump? That question cannot be answered, when in the past the easy answer was to always differ to the president’s leadership as head of the party.
Trump is a political outsider, and his relationship with the GOP is still relatively new. It had already started on shaky foundation before he was even inaugurated. Eight months into his tenure, and we’re seeing that it’s even shakier than first imagined.
If this is where it’s at presently, where will it be a year from now, or even six months from today? All signs point to more fissures between the president and Congressional Republicans that may be too big to even predict.
Watch an MSNBC interview with Paul Ryan below discussing how it was inappropriate for Trump to ask James Comey for loyalty:
Featured image via Screengrab.