One potential problem for the Trump Administration is that since Trump is a newcomer to the Republican Party, he holds different views than many other Republican elected officials. During the campaign, Trump’s views on many set him apart from other candidates in the primary. They also set him apart from other members of his party in the general election.
Trump made many promises that he may find his Republican colleagues unwilling to back up. The Republican Party has traditionally been a free trade party, but Trump is openly hostile to trade deals. Republicans fought tooth and nail against Obama’s infrastructure stimulus, but Trump has hinted at a similar spending program. Trump’s proposed childcare plan is the sort of entitlement expansion that Republicans have opposed when put forward by Democrats.
Some Republicans are undoubtedly confirmed passengers on the Trump Train, but many others will require much persuasion. Many Republicans supported Mr. Trump only reluctantly as the only alternative against Hillary Clinton. Conservative members of the party are unlikely to be willing to blindly follow Trump down a path of progressive policies.
The rub is that the Republican Party isn’t as conservative as it used to be. While few Republicans have voiced support for Mr. Trump’s childcare entitlement, anti-trade sentiment and isolationism had been growing in the GOP even before Trump burst onto the stage.
The libertarian faction of the GOP has been arguing against foreign involvement for years. When President Obama drew a “red line” in Syria, it was a bipartisan coalition of anti-war Republicans and Democrats that revolted against a military strike against the Assad regime’s chemical weapons facilities. Likewise, the Trans-Pacific Partnership was tagged as “Obamatrade” by Republicans who sided with Bernie Sanders to kill the trade deal.
Following these examples may provide Trump with a strategy to enact some of his less-than-conservative ideas. It is not beyond question that President Trump could reach out to forge bipartisan coalitions to push through policies that lack conservative support.
For example, the base of the Republican Party has moved left on trade. A September poll in Politico found that 85 percent of Republicans believed that free trade cost more American jobs than it has created. Only 18 percent believed that trade deals had helped their communities.
Even though many voters have shifted, many congressional Republicans remain favorable to free trade. President Trump is unlikely to be able to rely on Republicans to rubberstamp an anti-trade agenda of higher taxes and more regulation. The answer might well be to find a majority by combining protectionist Republicans and Democrats into one voting bloc.
Trump is hardly hostile to the idea of reaching across the aisle. Last January, early in the primary season, Trump said on MSNBC, “I think I'm going to be able to get along with [House Minority Leader Nancy] Pelosi — I've always had a good relationship with Nancy Pelosi.” Trump also said he was “close to” incoming Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer “in many in ways.” Trump said in the Washington Examiner in July that he wouldn’t mind being a “free agent” when dealing with Congress.
Trump’s cabinet appointments also show a willingness to go outside the Republican Party. Wilbur Ross, Trump’s pick for Commerce Secretary, was a Democrat until after the election. Steven Mnuchin, Trump’s Treasury Secretary, worked for Goldman Sachs and George Soros. Mnuchin, like Trump, was a big donor to Democrats before this election cycle. Trump’s pick for National Security Advisor, Michael Flynn, is also a registered Democrat.
Would congressional Democrats work with Trump? They seem open to the possibility.
“If he truly wants to revise U.S. trade policy, he is going to have to come and work in a bipartisan manner to do that. It's always been a substantial majority of Democrats who oppose these agreements," Rep. Peter DeFazio (D-Ore.) said in US News.
Even new Senate Minority Chuck Schumer is reaching out. “To the extent that the president-elect and the Republican majority pursue policies that help Americans and are consistent with our values, we stand ready and willing to work with them,” Schumer recently said in a speech quoted in Yahoo News. Schumer suggested that an infrastructure stimulus, tax reform and trade might be areas where Democrats and Trump could find common ground.
On the other hand, some Trump priorities would find little, if any, support from Democrats. A repeal of Obamacare or hardline immigration reform would be largely party-line issues that Schumer says Democrats would fight “tooth and nail.”
At this point, we can only speculate what the Trump Administration will be like. From his performance in the campaign, we can assume that there are few ideas that President Trump will be strongly committed to, but one of those is a protectionist trade agenda. To accomplish his goal of imposing large taxes and restrictions on trade, Trump, the former Democrat donor, is very likely to make a deal with congressional liberals.
Originally published on The Resurgent