Postscript: AT 8:30AM THIS MORNING WE POSTED THE PIECE BELOW. BY 10:30AM TRUMP, VIA STEVE BANNON, HAD DECLARED WAR ON THE FREEDOM CAUCUS, WITH RYAN'S FATE STILL LURKING. THIS IS A SEISMIC SHIFT, AND CAN PLAY OUT IN DIFFERENT WAYS, BUT TRUMP IS TRYING TO RECLAIM HIS AGENDA. MAYBE BANNON ACTUALLY CALLED PATAKI.
In 1994, Republican outsider State Senator George Pataki beat Mario Cuomo and became the governor of New York. The first thing he did was dump the sitting Republican Senate Majority Leader Ralph Marino and install his own choice, Joe Bruno. Pataki knew what Donald Trump doesn’t. You don’t want a legislative leader with his own base and agenda. You want a weakened and beholden leader whose first loyalty is to you, not the legislature and certainly not ideology.
For reasons that remain unclear, Trump got this wrong. He embraced Paul Ryan, a hard right-wing ideologue who had been propelled to power by the Freedom Caucus when it dumped Speaker John Boehner. Worse, we was an anti-Trumpite and said so publicly. Ryan has played out predictably. He’s forced Trump to his right, to a set of positions that are widely unpopular and which Trump himself never embraced. Worse again, he lost control of his caucus.
It’s not just the Obamacare debacle. He’s pushing Trump on all kinds of things. The infrastructure program is in danger, he’s moving to defund Medicare and Medicaid, to privatize Social Security, to savage funding for the arts, meals on wheels, it goes on.
Trump did not get elected as a movement conservative. His opportunity was to create a third path that kept middle class entitlements and the social safety net intact and stimulated economic growth through programs as much as tax cuts. No more. Trump looks like a milquetoast version of Ted Cruz and Grover Norquist. It won’t work politically or on the merits.
What he should have done was weaken the House leadership, split the Republican caucus between Trumpites and right-wingers and tried to pick off enough Democrats to govern with a Trumpish coalition majority. Too late now.
Pataki understood that executives don’t ever thrive when legislatures are strong. It’s un-American to be sure, but it’s true. The consequences of this blunder will continue to unroll. The Freedom Caucus has learned that they can force Trump to blink, moderate Republicans have learned that Trump won’t or can’t protect them, the world has learned that Paul Ryan can’t count, and Democrats have learned that unity in opposition can win.
Only one way out for Trump. He can’t simply announce that Ryan is toast. But he can open serious discussions with Pelosi and Schumer and count heads. Ryan will have to decide whether the Freedom Caucus runs America or whether he can craft a functioning majority, including Democrats, that can get some things done. Either way his power is reduced and Trump’s enhanced.
Steve Bannon: Call George Pataki.