At a White House meeting on immigration last week, Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) asked Donald Trump if he'd support a "clean" bill on DACA now, extending protections to Dreamers, with a commitment to then begin negotiations on comprehensive immigration reform. The president agreed. It was House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) who quickly interjected, reminding the president of what the Republican position is supposed to be.
Did Trump mind or see McCarthy's comments as somehow insolent? No, because the president and the House majority leader apparently have a budding friendship.
The Washington Post had an interesting piece yesterday on the relationship, including an anecdote about the California congressman discovering that Trump likes Starbursts candies, paying careful attention to pluck out the cherry and strawberry flavors.
"We're there, having a little dessert, and he offers me some," McCarthy recalled in an interview. "Just the red and the pink. A bit later, a couple of his aides saw me with those colors and told me, 'Those are the president's favorites.' "Days later, the No. 2 Republican in the House -- known for his relentless cultivation of political alliances -- bought a plentiful supply of Starbursts and asked a staffer to sort through the pile, placing only those two flavors in a jar. McCarthy made sure his name was on the side of the gift, which was delivered to a grinning Trump, according to a White House official.
The same article added that the House majority leader delivered a presentation to Trump on the party's expectations ahead of the midterm elections, which the president appreciated because of McCarthy's "use of pictures and charts rather than a memo."
Or put another way, one of Congress' top ranking officials has discovered how best to "manage" his party's president: give him candy and show him pretty pictures.
For McCarthy, the benefits are obvious. With House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) likely to retire at the end of the year, the House majority leader has an incentive to position himself as the top Republican in the chamber. McCarthy has already reportedly taken steps to shore up support from rank-and-file GOP members, and cultivating a close relationship with the party's president will likely help solidify McCarthy's position in the Republican hierarchy.
It's why, as the Post's article put it, the Californian "has sought to position himself as Trump's indispensable man in Congress, an easygoing Republican who gets him -- and likes him."
But the strategy is not without risks. For one thing, Trump is an unpopular, erratic, and scandal-plagued president, facing a Russia controversy that puts his future in jeopardy. The more McCarthy positions himself, deliberately, as "Trump's man in Congress," the more trouble he'll face if Trump's presidency unravels to an unsustainable level.
Just as important, if McCarthy has cracked the code and uncovered the secret to working with this president, there's no reason others can't copy the formula. Before long, competing political factions will each present Trump with candy and pretty pictures, forging ties through flattery and toadyism. This will have the effect of leveling the playing field and leaving the president conflicted and confused about which of his new friends he should follow.