Donald Trump has long been obsessed with maintaining a united partisan front, confident in the belief that he can withstand any crisis just so long as Republicans rally behind him. And yet, whether he understands the consequences of his actions or not, the president has a curious habit of testing the limits of his allies’ loyalties.
Congressional Republicans, for example, thought Trump had made a “huge mistake” releasing an incriminating call summary two weeks ago, but the president ignored them. GOP lawmakers were broadly disgusted when Trump – apparently on a whim – changed his policy toward Syria and abandoned our Kurdish allies without giving so much as a heads-up to his ostensible allies on Capitol Hill.
Congressional Republicans were blindsided again when the White House blocked Gordon Sondland, the U.S. ambassador to the European Union, from appearing on Capitol Hill, which came on the heels of the president putting GOP lawmakers in an awkward position by calling for Sen. Mitt Romney’s (R-Utah) impeachment – something that isn’t even possible in our system of government.
All of which is to say, at a time when Trump desperately needs unyielding Republican support, the president has taken a series of needlessly provocative steps that have angered and alienated the GOP officials whose backing he needs.
The Washington Post reported overnight, “There is an acknowledgment inside some quarters of the West Wing that Trump cannot ignore the skittishness of Republicans.”
In the coming weeks, White House acting chief of staff Mick Mulvaney is planning to help Trump begin a quiet charm offensive with congressional Republicans, hosting private dinners and meetings, gatherings at Camp David and other ways of expressing appreciation for their support, according to three Trump advisers who were not authorized to speak publicly.
CNN, meanwhile, reported that the president has been “lighting up the phone lines of his allies on Capitol Hill,” including multiple calls per day to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), “to whom he’s stressed the importance of Republican unity.”
The CNN report, which hasn’t been independently verified by MSNBC or NBC News, added that Trump has warned McConnell that he’s prepared to “amplify attacks on those Republicans who criticize him.”
Or put another way, the president has a carrot and a stick approach in mind.
Chances are, Republicans will do what they’ve consistently done: cover for Trump and make every effort to shield him from accountability. Indeed, three weeks into the White House’s impeachment crisis, we’ve already seen GOP officials embarrass themselves in the hopes of downplaying the scandal.
But this latest reporting suggests the president, his outward posture notwithstanding, isn’t altogether confident in his intra-party position.