In early September, Donald Trump surprised much of the political world by agreeing to a three-month fiscal deal with Democratic leaders, extending the debt ceiling, and irritating congressional Republicans. For many in the media, the long-awaited presidential “pivot” had finally arrived.
The New York Times published an especially memorable piece with a striking headline: “Bound to No Party, Trump Upends 150 Years of Two-Party Rule.”
Now in the White House, President Trump demonstrated this past week that he still imagines himself a solitary cowboy as he abandoned Republican congressional leaders to forge a short-term fiscal deal with Democrats. Although elected as a Republican last year, Mr. Trump has shown in the nearly eight months in office that he is, in many ways, the first independent to hold the presidency since the advent of the current two-party system around the time of the Civil War.
A day later, the Associated Press ran a similar assessment, heralding the emergence of “Trump the independent.” The piece added, “A president who spent months catering to the Republican conservative wing now appears unbound by ideology and untethered by party allegiances.”
A few days later, Trump appeared to reach a tacit agreement with Democratic leaders on immigration policy, prompting another round of coverage about the president and his willingness to challenge Republican orthodoxy.
Even at the time, it was difficult to take the chatter seriously. A three-month extension of the fiscal status quo and a vague commitment on immigration did not a pivot make. For that matter, while Trump has repeatedly clashed with Republicans over process and personality disputes, this president has been pretty consistent since Inauguration Day about his partisan instincts on practically every issue under the sun.
But a month later, the “Trump the independent” meme looks even more misguided.
The president, for example, has already moved to kill the immigration deal he reached with Democratic leaders. He followed that up by taking unprecedented steps to gut the nation’s health care system, motivated almost entirely by spite and partisan rage.
All the while, Trump has been pushing a partisan tax plan, written in secret exclusively by Republicans.
If this president is trying to “upend 150 years of two-party rule,” he’s not trying very hard.
The larger question, of course, is why so much of the political world is constantly waiting for Trump to turn over a new, more serious, less ridiculous, leaf. Part of this, I suspect, is the never-ending appetite for something new and unexpected. “Clownish president is still pandering to his right-wing base” is true, but uninteresting. “Clownish president was pandering to his right-wing base but is now committed to bipartisan deal-making” is exciting.
But it’s also wrong. There will be no dramatic presidential pivot and it’s past time for observers to stop waiting for one.