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The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

Bipartisan Cooperation with Trump on Infrastructure Looks Like a Bad Bet

Now that the “we can stop Trump in the Electoral College” fantasy has been exhausted, the debate in the Democratic Party now centers on how much faith Dems should have in the possibilities for bipartisan cooperation with Trump. At The New Republic Graham Vyse takes a hard line in his article, “Democrats Should Stop Talking About Bipartisanship and Start Fighting” and argues:

There are innumerable reasons for Democrats to adopt the exact same strategy congressional Republicans took on day one of Barack Obama’s presidency, denying him any bipartisan support for signature initiatives. Trump is far less popular than Obama was in late 2008, so an opposition strategy based on refusal and obstruction wouldn’t carry much political risk. And given Trump’s utter moral bankruptcy, he’s also far less deserving of their comity and collaboration.

There’s another benefit to this approach: We know, thanks to the Republicans, that it works.

Some Democratic leaders believe that Trump’s statements favoring infrastructure investment open the door to possible collaboration. William A. Galston, senior fellow at the Brookings Institution, “said he’s “heard from people quite close” to House Speaker Paul Ryan that greater public investment in infrastructure might be negotiable.” Further,

“If the Trump administration proposes something that, with negotiation, can be made consistent with the public interest, we ought to negotiate,” Galston said. “When its ideas are bad, we should reject them and propose better ones, and when its actions threaten basic constitutional norms and institutions, we should resist by all means possible.”

It’s a reasonable approach, provided a strong emphasis on consistency with the public interest, proposing  better approaches and “resisting by all means possible,” when necessary. However, warns Vyse,

In a normal political environment, with a normal president-elect, this kind of open-minded posture would be laudable. But it looks impractical in the current environment. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has already put Trump on notice about public infrastructure spending, saying “I hope we avoid a trillion-dollar stimulus,” and there’s every indication the president-elect will defer to congressional conservatives on policy details. Besides, if McConnell is this quick to push back on Trump from the right, why would he let Schumer shift policy to the left? Nothing about this transition period suggests Republicans are amenable to compromise with Democrats—not Trump’s appointments and nominations, not the GOP’s behavior in Congress, and certainly not all of the crowing from the likes of Gingrich.

In his post, “Collaborating With Donald Trump Is Doomed to Fail” at New York Magazine, Jonathan Chait put it in even stronger terms:

…The entire last eight years have been a Republican social-science experiment dedicated to proving that they can be as partisan, crazy, dangerous, and racist as they want without adverse political effect. What this tells Democrats is that working with Trump is the surest way to help him win reelection and his party to maintain its control of Congress.

In reality, his administration is a bonanza for economic elites. The Democratic Party should be repeating every word of this Ben White story in Politico, which reports, “Wall Street bankers and their Washington lobbyists are quietly celebrating.” Trump’s administration is stuffed with Wall Street bankers, and it is poised to shower them with tax breaks and lax regulation. What’s more, Trump himself is engaging in unprecedented levels of corruption by intermingling his public office and the continuation of his business. He and his family are almost certainly going to enrich themselves through power, and their nondisclosure policy will mean the public will have no accountability. The only actual accountability mechanism for this dangerous kleptocracy is an opposition party that hammers every Trump decision as potential self-dealing. The correct infrastructure strategy, for instance, is to define an opposing pro-infrastructure plan while lambasting Trump’s as a crooked giveaway that will make his rich business pals richer without much of anything to repair infrastructure. This attack line appeals to intuitive cynicism about politicians, and also happens to be accurate.

Winning on economic populism means blowing up Trump’s reputation as the friend of the little guy. To accommodate his claim to help the working class, by legitimizing his plans for infrastructure or child care, is to surrender. Again, there may be vital substantive or humanitarian cases where the Democrats should sacrifice their political interest in order to cooperate with Trump. But the idea that cooperating will help their party is simply wrong.

Collaborating with Trump in some ways might make sense for Democrats, if his cabinet picks had indicated a reaching out to Democrats, instead of an “in-your-face, progressives” attitude. Democrats have no choice now, other than perceiving Trump’s cabinet as designed for scorched-earth warfare to repeal and undermine all of the social programs from the New Deal forward. Indeed, Trump, Ryan, McConnell and other Repubican leaders have argued that infrastructure investments should be funded by budget cuts elsewhere, which most likely includes putting Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid and other safety net programs on the chopping block. Democrats who go along with that are inviting further disaster.

2 comments on “Bipartisan Cooperation with Trump on Infrastructure Looks Like a Bad Bet

  1. KB on

    “…there may be vital substantive or humanitarian cases where the Democrats should sacrifice their political interest in order to cooperate with Trump. But the idea that cooperating will help their party is simply wrong.”

    Sage advice from Mr. Chait. The best bet in the majority of situations we’re soon to face is to obstruct, obstruct, obstruct. That said, there will be plenty of opportunities for us to sit back, pass the popcorn and let the GOP do its thing. For instance, when the GOP inevitably begins cannibalizing the coal miners, factory workers, etc… that put them into power, we should let them feed for a little bit – provided that the cannibalizing is focused mostly on the areas that just went red. Essentially, we can take a break from telling voters that the GOP is bad for them. Left to its own devices, the GOP is quite capable of showing voters how bad it can be. And unlike the past eight years, it can’t pass the buck on its failures by pointing its bony white finger at the black man in the White House. There’s an orange monster of their own creation in there now.

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  2. Anthony Greco on

    I expect that the issue of whether or not to work with Trump is going to turn out to be a non-issue, because it looks increasingly likely that Trump’s policy agenda won’t offer anything that is minimally attractive to most Democrats. Infrastructure seemed like the one chance for common ground, but now even that possibility seems to be fading.

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