Nice speech, Mr. President. Now let’s see the follow through.
For nearly a decade, No Labels has preached the virtues and the urgency of bipartisanship. We believe that there’s value in both the progressive and the conservative world views, and that by engaging each other the left and right can steer the country in a better direction together. But as the Democratic Party has moved in one direction and the Republican Party shifted in the other, our political debate has been overwhelmed by sanctimony and callous disregard from both sides for the other.
So we were heartened when, in President Trump’s State of the Union Address, he said he wanted to work collaboratively with Democrats, and to find common ground. But it’s not enough to pay lip service to bipartisanship. The president needs to break from the divisive approach that has characterized so much of the last two years. He needs to ignore the advice he gets from zealots like Ann Coulter, and govern instead with an eye toward solving problems.
It is possible. The president’s words to the joint session of Congress reflected what a reader might expect to find in his old bestselling book, “The Art of the Deal.” You lay out your position, the person across the table counters with their own view, and you work it out. That’s how deals are done every day in business, and that’s the approach many hoped President Trump would take when negotiating with the Democrats. But he has yet to display a penchant for that sort of give-and-take.
That needs to change. The president will soon have an opportunity to prove his willingness to put his money where his mouth is. Another shutdown looms at the end of next week.
The basics of a bipartisan deal that would get us out of this particular mess are well known if only because they were negotiated a year ago, when 45 Senate Democrats agreed to invest $25 billion in a border wall—almost five times as much as the president is asking for now—in exchange for permanent relief for the “Dreamers” who were brought to the U.S. from foreign countries as children but are now stuck in limbo.
At the time, the president, fearful of a backlash from his base, decided to scuttle the deal, dismissing it as a “giant amnesty.” Now the art of the deal will be convincing Democrats, newly empowered with their House majority, to cut a similar sort of arrangement. This should be the sort of situation where Trump shines.
Let’s be clear: Any deal the president cuts with the Democrats won’t be popular with the far right. Ann Coulter, Rush Limbaugh and their ilk will almost surely balk. The most strident voices on the left will decry any accommodation at all with the president. But that’s what’s required to get a deal. The impetus is on President Trump to take the lead here. The president is the only figure who represents the whole country, not a single state or congressional district. So it is up to him to demonstrate a willingness to advocate for interests beyond those of his political base.
Fortunately, if he chooses the bipartisan path, the White House is likely to find allies on Capitol Hill. Yes, the president will risk alienating the most extreme members of the Republican Conference. But he may find allies in the Problem Solvers Caucus, a bipartisan bloc of Democrats and Republicans that is both larger than the Freedom Caucus, and eager to work in a collaborative fashion.
If the president were to eschew the divisiveness that has characterized the last two years and reach out in earnest to do deals, he would quickly discover that the Problem Solvers are ready, willing, and able to take up the hard work of tackling America’s biggest challenges. But it’s up to him to guarantee that he won’t leave them hanging.
Back in 2012, No Labels released Make America Work, a booklet designed to layout the principles for effective leadership in Washington—leadership capable of solving problems. They were simple: (1) Tell us the full truth; (2) Govern for the future; (3) Put the country first; (4) Be responsible; (5) Work together. It would be hard to argue that President Trump has lived up to these standards the last two years.
The coming showdown over immigration and border security is a “prove it” moment for the White House. After hinting at a new embrace of bipartisan principals, the president needs to demonstrate an authentic willingness to reach across the aisle. The country needs a renaissance of collaboration across the aisle. To get there, Washington needs President Trump to lead the way.