President Donald Trump speaks before signing an executive order establishing regulatory reform officers and task forces in US agencies in Washington, DC on February 24, 2017.
On Friday morning, before much of the political world was even awake, Donald Trump has already complaining about members of the House Freedom Caucus – a far-right GOP faction in Congress opposed to, among other things, the party’s health care legislation. The presidential pressure, however, didn’t work: later that day, with Freedom Caucus members refusing to budge, Trump’s bill was scrapped.
In the wake of failure, did the president try to mend fences with his intra-party foes? Actually, he did the opposite, ratcheting up the whining. On Sunday morning, Trump used Twitter to again complain about the House Freedom Caucus, and the president echoed the sentiment on Monday night.
This morning, apparently unable to let anything go, Trump once again took aim at the Republicans who stubbornly refused to follow his orders:
“The Freedom Caucus will hurt the entire Republican agenda if they don’t get on the team, & fast. We must fight them, & Dems, in 2018!”
Here’s what Trump’s allies and supporters should worry about: he seems to have no idea why this strategy is so unwise.
Look, the arithmetic is easy to understand. There are, as of this morning, 237 Republicans in the House. It takes 218 votes to pass a bill*. There are roughly 40 members of the House Freedom Caucus. With the White House already having pushed away Democrats, and the unpopular president already lacking political capital, you don’t have to be a genius or a mathematician to realize Trump’s legislative agenda will need some House Freedom Caucus support if it’s going to pass.
And with this dynamic in mind, the president has decided his best move is to publicly complain about Freedom Caucus members – repeatedly – and threaten them in advance of the 2018 midterms. These same members, reluctant to appear weak, will almost certainly respond to Trump’s salvos by sticking to their guns.
For that matter, Trump’s chosen enemy may not be his principal problem. Even if the Freedom Caucus had endorsed the ridiculous health care bill last week, it might not have passed the House – the proposal faced quite a bit of opposition from more centrist GOP members – and it almost certainly would’ve failed in the Senate. Presidential threats against Freedom Caucus members suggest Trump may not fully appreciate the nature of his problems on Capitol Hill.
Regardless, won’t some of Freedom Caucus Republican now worry about Trump-backed primary challengers? I seriously doubt it. Freedom Caucus members already represent conservative districts, so the idea of a mainstream primary challenge probably doesn’t sound too intimidating.
Besides, everyone now realizes that Trump just pops off on Twitter, saying whatever random thought crosses his mind, and there’s nothing to suggest the White House will seriously launch a coordinated effort to punish House Republicans who buck Team Trump’s demands.
In other words, Trump is an unpopular president with no credibility, demanding that far-right purists respect his authority through a series of whiny tweets.
This won’t end well.
* Technically, with a handful of temporary House vacancies, the threshold for bills to pass the House is 216, not 218. The larger point, of course, stands.