Donald Trump's surprise deal with Democrats to raise the debt limit might have poisoned the well with Republican leadership by defying his own party for a legislative win. Not that it matters to some voters in the U.S. president's base.
Although establishment conservatives were livid with the president's decision, Trump loyalists in red, blue and battleground states commended him for brokering a rare bipartisan agreement this week with top congressional Democrats Chuck Schumer and Nancy Pelosi.
"It was a great move. And it sent a message to Republicans," said Mike Rendino, a Trump supporter who runs a sports bar in New York City. "You need to unite the country one way or another, and the Republicans aren't a unified coalition, they've just become an obstruction."
Tea Party Republicans and hardline fiscal conservatives object to the Trump-Schumer-Pelosi deal, which would hike the debt ceiling, keep the government open and fast-track billions in disaster relief for Hurricane Harvey.
It would also frustrate Republican fiscal plans by pushing the debt-limit debate to December, crowding a packed agenda that will include a must-pass budget and immigration reform to help 800,000 undocumented residents brought over as minors. Tax reform could get bumped as a result.
Amid glowing headlines, Trump suggested Thursday bipartisanship might be a winning formula he'll try again.
"You're going to see a much stronger coming-together," he said.
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In an Alabama district that went 91.3 per cent for Trump in 2016, Dennis Beavers said he doesn't care that Trump undermined Republican Party orthodoxy by siding with Democrats on a three-month extension of the debt limit.
After Harvey's devastation in Houston and with Alabama likely to shelter masses of evacuees from Florida due to Hurricane Irma, Beavers wants emergency relief funding to go through as soon as possible, regardless of how the president had to strike a deal.
"We're fixin' to see one of the worst natural disasters to hurt this country in years. There's a time for fighting, but this is a time for co-operating."
Republican leaders House Speaker Paul Ryan and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell were reportedly blindsided by how quickly Trump caved to Democratic demands for a three-month debt ceiling extension.
Beavers, an insurance agent from Blountsville, Ala., said he was glad the "Republican Washington swamp" was "shellshocked."
'The president is a deal-maker'
"The president is a deal-maker," he said. "That's what we need to get things done, and the president is doing a great job getting things done."
The Republicans had sought an 18-month extension so they wouldn't have to vote twice on the contentious item before the 2018 midterm elections. The fractured Republican conference is having enough trouble coalescing as it is, unable to get a budget resolution to the floor or agree on a health-care repeal bill.
Pundits suggested Trump risked harming his relationship with the Republican Party for the sake of a much-needed legislative victory before the end of the year.
Trump's decision to take a deal he likely saw as "good enough" boosts his chances of notching a win, said Worth Hester, a policy analyst at the Government Affairs Institute at Georgetown University.
"He's just looking for a deal. He's looking for a legislative success story. That's part of what's driving him."
Ironically, Trump's biggest achievements will likely be tied to more spending and raising the debt cap — "the exact opposite of what Tea Party Republicans came to D.C. to do," as Axios's Mike Allen noted.
The idea of a Republican president cutting a deal with top congressional Democrats would ordinarily look outrageous, Hester said.
"To normal partisan political operators in Washington, D.C., it's 'Oh my god, how can he ever cut another deal with his own people?'"
Confusing for Republicans?
That the Republicans would nominate Trump for president, only to have him cave at the negotiating table with Democrats, would be "confusing" for the party, he said, as it could be seen as a manifestation of early fears that Trump was never a true conservative.
"It's already hard keeping a Republican conference together. Then you add this uncertainty that the president brings, and it makes it harder to drive an agenda."
Terry Lathan is hardly distressed. "Preposterous," the chair of the Alabama Republican Party said of suggestions Trump is a "closet Democrat."
She cited his opening of the Keystone XL pipeline and nomination of Neil Gorsuch to the Supreme Court as proof of the president's conservatism. But if breaking through a congressional stalemate means making concessions with Democrats, she approves — no matter who does the deal-making.
"Americans don't want to know how to build the clock, they just want to know what time it is."
George Shadie, a financial planner and Trump supporter from Wilkes-Barre, in the battleground state of Pennsylvania that flipped to Trump in 2016, said he was "impressed" by the president's deal-making.
"An excellent compromise. Open up the lines of communication," he said. "Trump told the Republicans either they move or he makes a deal with the Democrats. It's shape up or ship out."
Republicans run both the executive and legislative branches of government. "And yet the Democrats are calling the shots?" said Lisa Schiffren, a constitutional conservative and speechwriter for former Republican vice-president Dan Quayle.
"I find that deeply offensive."
As much as it stung her to see the president shaking hands with the opposition, Schiffren saw the deal-making as necessary for "lighting a fire under the butts" of Ryan and McConnell after pervasive intra-party gridlock.
'This almost means we have three parties now: The Democratic Party, the Republican Party … and the party that Trump represents.' — Steve Bell, political analyst
If the deal alters Trump's relationship with the Republican Party in any way, she said, it's because the president "asserted power by telling them, 'If you're not supporting me, to hell with you.'"
What's been clear so far is that Trump "feels very comfortable ignoring the Republican leadership in Congress," said Steve Bell, with the Bipartisan Policy Center think-tank in Washington.
"This almost means we have three parties now: The Democratic Party, the Republican Party … and the party that Trump represents."
Trump's former campaign chairman Paul Manafort said as much last summer, when he eulogized the Republican Party of former president Ronald Reagan as a bygone political brand.
"This," Manafort declared, "is the Trump Party now."