The President’s recent cabinet shake-up and controversial statements, as is par for the course now (especially how much golf Trump is playing) have some speculating a possible distancing or abandonment of the real estate mogul by members of the GOP.
What could be the reason for such a belief and does it seem likely? Well, the answer of that lies in his treatment of Republican party insiders within the administration.
The key issue to look at is the resignations of Republican establishment figures from the administration, most notably ex-Chief of Staff Reince Priebus, and ex-Press Secretary Sean Spicer.
One clear victim of the Republican establishment is Sean Spicer. Since his early embarrassingly ardent support for the President, rumours of his dismissal finally came to a head when he resigned 10 days ago. After slowly being eased out of his Press Room responsibilities in favour of Sarah Huckabee Sanders and new arrival Anthony Scaramucci, it was clear there was no room in the administration for the White House spokesperson and so both his – and Melissa McCarthy’s nice little earner on SNL – came to a close.
However, it was the removal of Reince Priebus, former head of the Republican National Committee, which has caused the biggest shake-up. His appointment to Trump’s cabinet was an olive branch to the GOP after a spectacularly messy primary, where he ‘reality TV bullied’ his way through the ‘low energy’ Republican establishment.
Priebus’ role was to steer the administration in a way that would promote the Republican Party agenda, most notably through passage of legislation. He was needed to use his informal ties to Capitol Hill (given his personal relationship to House Speaker Paul Ryan), and strategise with the former orange-man reality TV star, so as to better the chance of having an extra four years in the White House come 2020.
However, although he accepted the job, inspired by personal ambition and a sense of party loyalty, neither a policy based not personal relationship formed between the former RNC head and the President. For the last week Priebus was on the receiving end of foul words by new Director of Communications, and Trump ally, Anthony ‘The Mooch’ Scaramucci, being referred to as a “[ducking] paranoid schizophrenic” and repeated accusation of being the cause of the White House leaks against the President.
This brings us to Trump’s recent public rift with Jeff Sessions. Axios reported that the Apprentice star is looking to replace Sessions with former New York City Mayor ‘let me take credit for everything’ Rudy Giuliani. This looks to be a possible straw to, at least threaten to, break the GOP elephants back, with Senator Lindsey Graham of South Carolina stating the President’s attacks on Sessions won’t “[go] over well in the conservative world”… that “If Jeff Sessions is fired, there will be holy hell to pay”.
So with these attempts by Trump to distance himself from the core of the Republican Party, is it possible for him to actually be a Republican president? Trump is ironically becoming the thing the Tea Party feared, a R.I.N.O. (Republican In Name Only), with only the letter R and the colour Red to align him with the party.
So, with historically low approval ratings at this point in his term as President, failure to pass any meaningful legislation within the last six (I know… only six!) months and the 2018 mid-terms approaching – with the Democrats only needing 14 seats to change the house to a shade of blue – you wouldn’t be too out of line to believe that the GOP might abandon the great orange one…
However, this belief is unlikely to come to fruition. These staffing dismissals and tectonic rifts shouldn’t be taken out of context… Trump recently met with conservative pundit Ann Coulter to discuss how his base is starting to become disillusioned with his antics, that he needs to focus on the policies (such as immigration and protectionism) which spurred his base to elect him. His strategy seems to have shifted… rather than keep the Republican politicians on his side due to their connection with the establishment of the Party, he may try and shift his strategy to focus on the core and unwavering 35% who will follow him no matter what. The only persuasion the Republican politicians need to not go against the President is the carrot of a sympathetic hand to sign whatever legislation they can try and pass, and the stick that if they of against him that he’ll throw on a red hat, put together a rally and support however will support him if they don’t. This stick threat may not give Trump the guarantee of victory… but as of this moment it doesn’t look like many Republicans (save Republican Senators Lisa Murkowski and Susan Collins) are brave enough as a group to put it to the test. The rest of the GOP only care about survival and that 35% is probably enough to keep them in their seats… so they’ll continue to keep their heads down and suck it up… (No, not in that way…).