Democrats have attempted to paint President Donald Trump as a hard-right conservative, an uber partisan whose forays outside of Republican orthodoxy are best explained by a lack of resolve rather than a streak of independence. In so doing, they not only sell the president short, they risk hamstringing their ability to make any progress over the next four years.
There is no doubt that President Trump’s style—the result of a long-life outside of the hermetically sealed world of politicking—is different than his White House predecessors. But his willingness to work across the aisle is not at all unique.
“I think he’s pragmatic and wants to get things done, and there’s two ways to get things done,” Republican consultant Richard Hohlt told the Washington Post. “One is you reach out to Republicans, one is you reach out to Democrats, or maybe you reach out to both. Every president I’ve worked with since Reagan has always reached out to both. The idea that you only reach out to one party has never been done in the 45 years I’ve been in Washington.”
Granted, partisan polarization is a real phenomena, and the parties are no doubt further apart than they’ve been in a long time. But increasingly voters just want things done and President Trump’s just so happens to be a doer. His campaign promises crisscrossed traditional notions of partisan boundaries, veering from hard right conservative (immigration) to moderate (infrastructure investment) to left wing liberal (trade).
That leaves plenty of opportunities for Trump to work with a broad coalition, a strategy the White House appears ready to ramp up in the near future.
“[The president] is eager to get to 218 on a lot of his initiatives, whether it’s tax reform, infrastructure,” White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer told reporters Monday. “And I think that he is going to be willing to listen to other voices on the other side to figure out if people want to work with him to get these big things done, to make Washington work, to enhance the lives of the American people. Then he’s going to work with them.”
The White House tried to do that kind of outreach on health care reform, but was immediately rebuffed by Democrats who drew a line in the sand against repealing Obamacare. Nevertheless, Trump is still counting on a bipartisan solution after Obamacare continues to implode, the result of decreasing enrollment and higher premiums.
“The Democrats don’t want to see this happen so they’re going to reach out, when they’re ready,” he said. “And whenever they’re ready, we’re ready.”
But the prospects for working across the aisle may be higher the next legislative priority on Republicans’ list: tax reform. Politico’s Josh Dawsey writes:
When Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin launched his outreach earlier this month to lawmakers on an overhaul to the country’s tax system, one of his first meetings was with the newly created Problem Solvers Caucus, a group of 20 Democrats and 20 Republicans trying to vote together on issues such as taxes and infrastructure.
While the meeting did not produce any firm commitments, Mnuchin’s decision to prioritize the group in the early stages is just one sign that the White House, stung by its initial defeat on health care, is taking a starkly different legislative strategy for taxes.
Trump has tasked Mnuchin, one of the administration’s most liberal members, with making many of the pitches on the issue, and has told Mnuchin and others he wants moderate Republicans and Democrats on board, several people familiar with the conversations say.
Then again, there is a marked difference between the White House trying and Democrats cooperating. Much of the party has already announced their intention to oppose Trump at every turn, even going so far as to boycott the inauguration and refuse to shake his hand after his inaugural speech to Congress.
Democrats will have to get over that reflexive disdain for working across the aisle if they hope to be something more than just an opposition party. They’ll also have to tame the leftist elements of their party and stop attempting to frame Trump as a partisan, and see him for the dealmaker he is. If they’re willing to do those things then there’s no limit to the progress that could be achieved in the next four years.