Trump’s not becoming an independent. His deals with Democrats and Bannon’s threats are signs that the hostile takeover of the GOP is just getting started.
There is no precedent for President Trump’s political maneuverings at the expense of his own party. Only a president with no longstanding ties to the GOP or political experience would have even considered something like his astonishing ambush of the Republican congressional leadership last week, in which Trump cut a deal with the Democrats at the expense of his supposed allies.
Trump is unbound by any loyalty to the party that nominated him or to men such as House speaker Paul Ryan and Senator Mitch McConnell. To the contrary, he regards them as foes in a cold war against a political establishment he neither likes nor trusts. As former aide turned independent cheerleader Steve Bannon noted on 60 Minutes Sunday night, Ryan and McConnell oppose Trump’s populist agenda that they rightly perceive as contradicting the conservative views that unite most Republicans.
But those who think that what is happening is a genuine revolution that will, as the New York Times put it in an analysis published on the front page of their Sunday edition, “Upend 150 Years of Two-Party Rule,” are mistaken. Trump is not a true Republican, nor is he anyone’s idea of a conservative. Nothing like Trump has ever happened before in American political history, and the long-term consequences of his presidency are still unknowable. But what is going on is not the birth of a third force in American politics, as George Wallace or Ross Perot intended when they conducted their third-party challenges to the Republicans and Democrats. Nor is it comparable to Theodore Roosevelt’s “Bull Moose” Progressive Party run for the presidency in 1912.
Trump wants to change American politics in some ways, but he is not seeking to end the two parties’ monopoly on power. Ryan, McConnell, and members of their caucuses may think that Trump’s “America First” ideas are alien to the party they’ve served and led. But Trump doesn’t have to invent a third party to get around the establishment. What we are witnessing is an attempt to expand upon last year’s hostile takeover of the GOP that will remake the pary in Trump’s image.
Can such an effort succeed?