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Trump Declares War On House Freedom Caucus

Trump And GOP Elephant

Just days after the American Health Care Act died what in the end was a predictable death, President Trump is declaring war on members of his own party:

WASHINGTON — President Trump declared war on the conservatives of the House Freedom Caucus on Thursday, suggesting Republicans should “fight them” in the 2018 midterm elections if they do not back his agenda.

“The Freedom Caucus will hurt the entire Republican agenda if they don’t get on the team, & fast,” Mr. Trump said Thursday morning on Twitter, escalating a fight that began when the conservatives from the caucus blocked his Affordable Care Act repeal last Friday.

“We must fight them, & Dems, in 2018!” Mr. Trump wrote, apparently making good on suggestions that he would support Republican challengers to lawmakers in his own party who oppose him, a stance advocated by his chief strategist, Stephen K. Bannon.

Calls to members of the caucus were not immediately returned.

Over the past few days, Mr. Trump has lurched between battering and buttering up conservatives who killed his health care overhaul in an agenda-scuttling insurrection that imperils his plans for tax reform and a trillion-dollar infrastructure package.

On Wednesday — about 18 hours before Mr. Trump’s Twitter attack — senior officials from the White House invited two dozen leaders from conservative groups for a closed-door session to plot a path ahead.

Participants, who were instructed by the organizers of the event not to divulge details of the meeting, or even the groups attending, described the hourlong sit-down as a welcome, but long overdue, policy discussion. It included a candid, polite airing of complaints that they have been largely left out of the loop on major administration decision-making, according to people who attended.

The meeting, put together by Mr. Trump’s conservative outreach director, Paul Teller, at the request of conservatives, included representatives of the Heritage Foundation, Americans for Limited Government and Judicial Watch, all of whom were critical of some administration policies, including the health bill.

Thomas Fitton, the president of Judicial Watch — a conservative legal advocacy group that successfully sued the Obama administration for the release of Hillary Clinton’s State Department emails — made a pointed pitch for the release of all documents pertaining to the Russia controversy, according to people who attended the session in the Eisenhower Executive Office Building adjacent to the White House.

Mr. Fitton, the participants said, told Mr. Teller that Mr. Trump needed to be committed to a policy of extreme transparency about contacts between Russian government officials and Trump associates during the 2016 campaign, including Michael T. Flynn, the former national security adviser, and Jared Kushner, Mr. Trump’s son-in-law.

He also asked Mr. Teller and other administration officials present to more rapidly approve bottled-up Freedom of Information requests about Russia and other topics — likening the foot-dragging on legally mandated disclosure to what he said was the Obama administration’s flouting of immigration laws.

Mr. Teller nodded, took notes and was noncommittal, an activist in attendance said.

Rick Manning, a longtime conservative activist and former lobbyist, had worked on setting up the meeting for weeks, but it took on a greater urgency after the health care debacle.

Mr. Trump’s message on Twitter was not impulsive: Mr. Bannon and his staff have been closely monitoring the president’s posts and using them as leverage in negotiations.

Matt Lewis takes Trump’s words as something akin to a declaration of war:

In my last column, I suggested the president might “take a page from the Bill Clinton playbook and ‘triangulate.'” This would involve embracing the populist themes he ran on, instead of outsourcing his governing agenda to Paul Ryan and House Republicans.

This latest tweet—indicating he wants to fight both the Freedom Caucus and Democrats in 2018—suggests he might be taking this idea seriously. There is always the possibility that Trump might be retooling his administration—something he must do if it is to be successful.

Another way of looking at it is that this could be a mess. While Breitbart (and maybe Bannon) are gunning for Ryan, Trump is going at the Freedom Caucus. This is not quite circular firing squad territory, but it is chaotic. If a Republican president seriously expends time and treasure taking down members of his own party in a midterm election, that doesn’t bode well for him or his party.

Given the fact that he has routinely struck out against critics from the time he entered the race for President, and long before then when he was just another celebrity with a Twitter account, it’s not surprising that Trump would lash out against people who criticize him or block him from doing what he wants. What is somewhat surprising is the fact that he’s doing so as President when it’s rather obvious that he needs the cooperation of conservatives in the House of Representatives and the Senate to get his agenda through over the next four years. As it stands, he’s clearly not going to get cooperation from Democrats on much of anything, especially before the 2018 midterms. Additionally, while public opinion of Congress isn’t very high at the moment, the fact that Trump’s job approval numbers are at historic lows and seem at the moment only likely to go lower unless there’s a real change of course at the White House soon suggests that there isn’t much of an incentive for Republicans on Capitol Hill to cooperate with him on anything at all. The fact that he’s now effectively declaring war on them just adds to the disincentive.

Of course, at the same time that Trump is declaring war on the Freedom Caucus, the Freedom Caucus and its supporters at various conservative grassroots organizations are aiming their fire at House Leadership, and especially at Speaker Paul Ryan. Virtually from the moment that it was introduced, pretty much every conservative grassroots organization of consequence, such as Freedomworks, the Club for Growth, and others, had come out against the American Health Care Act and pressured conservatives on Capitol Hill to stand against it notwithstanding the pressure from House Leadership to pass the bill. That effort was successful, of course, and now it seems as though these same conservatives feel emboldened by their victory, making it even less likely that they will cooperate in the future when it comes to issues like tax reform, infrastructure spending, or the upcoming battles over the debt ceiling and the Federal Budget for the upcoming Fiscal Year.

President Trump may think he wants a war with his party’s most vocal segment, but something tells me he’s going to live to regret it if he goes forward with this idea.

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About Doug Mataconis
Doug holds a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May, 2010 and also writes at Below The Beltway. Follow Doug on Twitter | Facebook

Comments

  1. CSK says:

    I get the feeling–from a quick glance at Lucianne.com–that even some of the hardcore Trumpkins are not pleased by this.

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  2. Daryl's other brother Darryl says:

    He really doesn’t have much in the way of leadership skills, does he?
    I suspect he is not going to be able to bully the Freedom Caucus the way that he bully’s contractors and waitresses.

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  3. grumpy realist says:

    @Daryl’s other brother Darryl: As said, what has surprised me is how absolutely TERRIBLE Trump is at actual negotiating. I would have thought that there was at least some reality behind some of his purported skills and achievements, but no, it looks like he is a hollow man all the way down.

    And his gullible followers still believe all the claims out of their Messiah’s mouth…..

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  4. SenyorDave says:

    @grumpy realist: As said, what has surprised me is how absolutely TERRIBLE Trump is at actual negotiating.

    It doesn’t help that everyone on both sides pretty much agrees that Trump lies ALL THE TIME. There really is no incentive to negotiate with someone who is a known liar. Now Trump wants to make deals with Democrats? I don’t see an upside to dealing with him since it is a guarantee that if someone offers a better deal his word means nothing. He brags about how little his word means.

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  5. Liberal Capitalist says:

    The circular firing squad begins !

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  6. grumpy realist says:

    Ryan’s Choice.

    They really are unraveling, aren’t they?

    (munches popcorn)

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  7. Gustopher says:

    Shouldn’t this have the fighting elephants graphic?

    Anyway, I cannot possibly imagine how this will turn out well for Trump, the “Freedom” Caucus, or anyone with a vested interest in the Republican party functioning. I lay even odds on a Government shutdown at the end of April because of Republican infighting, with Trump angrily tweeting about how the Democrats failed to provide any votes and threatening to campaign against the far right.

    Who knew governing could be so hard?

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  8. grumpy realist says:
  9. Daryl's other brother Darryl says:

    @Gustopher:

    Who knew governing could be so hard?

    Eggzachary….

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  10. MarkedMan says:

    it’s rather obvious that he needs the cooperation of conservatives in the House of Representatives and the Senate to get his agenda through over the next four years.

    There’s a category error here: Trump doesn’t have an agenda. For example, an admistration source is explaining that because a trade way with Mexicon would hurt US Agricultural exports maybe all NAFTA needs is just a little clarification. That was a signature issue for him. Trump does not have the mental capacity to grasp an agenda, much less fabricate one. And as those who work for him are finding out, unless you are a sycophantic toady he’s going to view you as a threat and seek to undermine you.

    If he doesn’t have an agenda, what gets his gears turning over? I suspect only two things: winning the days news cycle, at least as he perceives it, and smiting his enemies, whoever he perceives them to be at the moment.

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  11. James Pearce says:

    Get your down vote fingers ready, guys, cuz here comes another one.

    Trump is the only Republican who would go after the Freedom Caucus with any vigor and he should be encouraged in that effort. They are, to a man, “bad for America” and if Trump “fights” them, he’ll be doing us all a favor.

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  12. grumpy realist says:

    @James Pearce: Oh no, I agree completely with you. Never interrupt your enemy when he is making a mistake.

    Or in this case, the anti-Obama/anti-Hillary glue which was the only thing keeping the Republican Party together has now dissolved and we’re seeing the results. So I guess I should be saying “never interrupt your enemy when it is having a civil war.”

    MOAR POPCORN!

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  13. Argon says:

    Wow. Trumps has hit his ‘stopped clock’ phase. He’s actually doing some good, unintentionally.

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  14. Daryl's other brother Darryl says:

    he’s clearly not going to get cooperation from Democrats on much of anything

    Whoa…not so fast…I think he could if he tried…but you gotta be willing to give something to get something. It’s clear that the Comb-over Donnie’s view of negotiation is that he takes and you give. That may work when you a fwcking over a drywall contractor from New Jersey who is just barely eeking out a living…but it ain’t gonna work on the HIll.

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  15. Daryl's other brother Darryl says:

    @James Pearce:

    Trump is the only Republican who would go after the Freedom Caucus with any vigor

    Right…but the way he is doing it is completely counter-productive. They aren’t just some waitress in one of his failing restaurants who he can just grab by the pussy…the whores up on the HIll take some finessing. Trumps got no game.

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  16. gVOR08 says:

    Mr. Fitton, the participants said, told Mr. Teller that Mr. Trump needed to be committed to a policy of extreme transparency about contacts between Russian government officials and Trump associates

    Do you suppose Trump knows something about what might come out that Mr. Fitton doesn’t?

    My best guess is that there was some level of collusion with the campaign, but probably vague and indirect. Manafort is toast but it may not go far beyond that. But I think Trump has longstanding business and financial ties with Russia that, while not fatal, will look very bad. Maybe we’ll get lucky and Trump will decide to jettison Trump by leaking video of the golden stream incident.

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  17. Lit3Bolt says:

    Hmmm. Given that there’s a debt ceiling fight coming up, not sure if this drama is manufactured or not.

    Trump’s tweets may be inane, but they usually have a strategic goal in cooperation with other parties.

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  18. Ben Wolf says:

    It couldn’t happen to a nicer group of people.

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  19. Mr. Bluster says:

    @Daryl’s other brother Darryl:..Eggzachary….

    Any kin to this guy?
    https://s-media-cache-ak0.pinimg.com/564x/45/f6/a3/45f6a3f3822018fd80b98c0f234f8f04.jpg

    (crumby…but sfw)

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  20. Pch101 says:

    Trump is such a huckster that he thinks that he can switch and drop and resume allegiances at the drop of a hat whenever it suits him. He must think that he’s selling timeshares or tuition packages for Trump Not-Quite-a-University.

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  21. James Pearce says:

    @grumpy realist:

    Never interrupt your enemy when he is making a mistake.

    Indeed. I’m not sure Trump going after the HFC is a “mistake” though. Destroying your rivals is a pretty good move most of the time. (If Obama did it with his rival in 08, maybe we’d be talking about President Biden….)

    @Daryl’s other brother Darryl:

    Trumps got no game.

    To the contrary, game is all he has. He’s got no substance.

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  22. CSK says:

    @Pch101:

    Well, that’s exactly what Trump is. He spouts whatever bullsh!t comes into his head at any given moment, oblivious to the fact that it might contradict something he said five minutes ago, or he spouts whatever bullsh!t Bannon, Ivanka, or Jared whispers into his ear, oblivious to the fact that it might contradict something he said five minutes ago.

    He has no core. He has no principles or beliefs or convictions other than getting revenge on his enemies and desperately trying to prove that he’s The Man.

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  23. Hal_10000 says:

    @grumpy realist:

    MOAR POPCORN!

    One day, historians will speak of the great corn famine that consumed the country around 2019.

    Trump is on Twitter now, calling out representatives by name. Representatives who were unswervingly loyal during the election. What an idiot.

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  24. grumpy realist says:

    @Hal_10000: I really wonder how Trump thinks that people aren’t watching this and drawing their own conclusions about whether he’s a good ally or not.

    And ol’ Vlad must be grinning from ear to ear watching how the walking human bomb he so carefully manoevered into the top position of the US government is now exploding and causing damage in all directions.

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  25. Mikey says:

    I hope we don’t have to pick a side in this. It’s like a battle between the Alien and the Predator. Sure, it might be epic, but really, all humanity would be much better off if they were both shot into the Sun.

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  26. grumpy realist says:

    Flynn trying to exchange testimony for immunity.

    Considering that no one’s biting yet, either they consider him too much of a minnow or have sufficient evidence against him already.

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  27. Sleeping Dog says:

    (Downs a handful of pop corn) And Donald will find renegotiating NAFTA as complicated as healthcare.
    http://www.latimes.com/world/mexico-americas/la-fg-mexico-corn-boycott-20170329-story.html

    A solution to the Russian problem.
    http://www.newyorker.com/cartoons/daily-cartoon-032917-natasha-and-boris

    oh and Flynn offers to testify if granted immunity.

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  28. Jen says:

    @Pch101:

    he thinks that he can switch and drop and resume allegiances at the drop of a hat whenever it suits him.

    Isn’t that the plot of like 90% of reality television shows out there? I don’t know for sure, I hate reality TV and never watch it, but it does sound like Survivor-Apprentice-MTV Real World-Bachelor stuff.

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  29. grumpy realist says:

    Good article on what Flynn is probably trying to get immunity for.

    Not Russia, but potential kidnapping for the Turkish government.

    Whoops.

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  30. Argon says:

    We are going deeper into the rabbit’s hole. Odd stuff with Flynn.

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  31. M. Bouffant says:

    @SenyorDave: How Trump negotiates:

    Donald Trump’s plans to make America great again are going to include a lot of whining.

    Trump on Tuesday morning in an interview on CNN’s “New Day” proclaimed that he is “the most fabulous whiner” when confronted with an opinion piece that criticized him using the same label.

    “I do whine because I want to win and I’m not happy about not winning and I am a whiner and I keep whining and whining until I win,” Trump told CNN’s Chris Cuomo on Tuesday.

    He “negotiates” like a three-yr. old who wants another cookie.

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  32. Blue Galangal says:

    @Mikey: With Trump’s attention span and IQ, even the stupidest member of the HFC will be able to outmanoeuvre him. It’s like bringing a pop gun to a knife fight.

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  33. gVOR08 says:

    Does Trump even remotely understand that the Freedom Caucus guys constituency is Trump’s constituency?

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  34. gVOR08 says:

    @grumpy realist: Could be that, although he can paint that as just BS to please a client. I think he’s committed perjury with the FBI.

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  35. Facebones says:

    @James Pearce:

    I’m not sure Trump going after the HFC is a “mistake” though. Destroying your rivals is a pretty good move most of the time.

    It’s a mistake in that he needs the Freedom Caucus votes to pass anything. Threatening them with a primary is dumb. They’re hardcore righties who are opposing the president on issues where he is not sufficiently right wing. Is he going to primary them with moderates?

    And no Democrat will ever vote with him. Schumer and Pelosi will keep their troops in line.

    As has been evident since forever, he shows no impulse control and no medium or long range thinking of any kind. He reacts to stimuli. If you have “wronged” him, you are an enemy to be crushed. If you said something supportive about him, you are his bestest bud. And now, thanks to 78K voters in three swing states, we are all stuck with the cornfield boy from Twilight Zone as president.

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  36. Jim Brown 32 says:

    Why why why do Democrat constituencies have to be so obtuse? Look, there are no permanent allies or enemies in politics–global or domestic. Here Trump has signaled that he wants to go after the HFC–DAMMIT HELP HIM!

    HFC has been a thorn in the side of Democrats and the Country for almost 7 years now. For this one common roadblock–it is possible to aid Trump…covertly if need be. If I were Shumer or Pelosi, I’d back channel with Trump and guage the seriousness of his willingness to collaborate for this one limited project to solve a common problem. We could agree to go back to being total enemies after the job is complete. Hell, if Trump want them gone bad enough you could even leverage Dem support in exchange for concessions on some other issue. Golly, can you guys for once stop thinking like your Tea Party ideological cousins? You get a 2 for 1– You kneecap Trump supporters voice in the House AND you neutralize the group of legislators most likely to support Trump on his craziest initiatives.

    Look at the forest people not the trees.

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  37. Jim Brown 32 says:

    Let a brother out of moderation!

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  38. michael reynolds says:

    @Jim Brown 32:

    No. Everyone who touches Trump comes away dirty, disappointed and betrayed. There is no negotiating with a compulsive liar who doesn’t even understand the outlines of the issues. And why in God’s name would we jump aboard this post-iceberg Titanic?

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  39. Pch101 says:

    @Jim Brown 32:

    Trump is a backstabber. He cannot be trusted.

    One reason that Trump gets away with it is because there are naive dupes like you who think that they can work with him without getting burned. But that just isn’t possible because he is inherently untrustworthy.

    Outsiders should do what they can get to encourage the infighting but without taking Trump’s side. If possible, try to screw both sides.

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  40. panda says:

    @michael reynolds: And even if Trump wasn’t a liar, he doesn’t have the goods. Ryan and McConnel control what gets on the House/Senate floor, and they are not going to bring any Democratic-written bills up.

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  41. Jim Brown 32 says:

    @michael reynolds: Politics is a dirty game Reynolds–you of all people should understand this. It requires unholy alliances that you need to undertake–where you also understand that you also need a deringer in your sock in case things go south and you’ve got you handle your business.

    Why? The HFC has a longer shelf life at this point than Trump. There is an opportunity to make them a short term problem if Trump is convinced they are a threat to him. Take it.

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  42. Jim Brown 32 says:

    @Pch101: No, its checker players like you that don’t understand how real politics happens behind the scenes—but always complain about getting shafted. Democrats don’t need Trump to be trustworthy or moral—they need him to dispatch of the HFC like hes dispatched and delegitimized everyone else he’s targeted (except of course, the black man, Barack Obama).

    You think the Russians cared about Trump’ reliability when they shared a common target in HRC? That worked out pretty good for both of them–and the Russians got the added benefit of handicapping an incoming US President with internal investigations, suspicion, and bad press. It was a thing of beauty. A collaboration with Trump that destroys the HFC and somehow gets out that Trump and the Dems are secretly collaborating? The beauty would wet my eyes. Sometimes its hard to feel sorry for Dems and Liberals because alot of your problems–you do it to yourselves.

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  43. Jim Brown 32 says:

    @panda: Who said Dems had to write anything? You can sell anyting to Trumpits…..have Ryan introduce a bill with your ghost-written language in it and have Pelsoi and Schumer rail to high heaven against it. Trumpits would instantly be for it.

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  44. Tony W says:

    @Jim Brown 32:

    The HFC has a longer shelf life at this point than Trump. There is an opportunity to make them a short term problem if Trump is convinced they are a threat to him. Take it.

    I’m sure Trump appreciates your confidence in his effectiveness, but nothing I have seen shows me he’s capable of neutralizing anybody.

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  45. KM says:

    @Jim Brown 32:
    Are you that chess player that thinks 30 moves ahead with a dozen backup plans and strategies that gets taken out with a direct simplistic move? Or in my world, the fencer who had 4th and 5th intentions, trying to set up a complicated phrase that I just up and stab?

    One can overthink this. Yes, one makes deals with the devil to get stuff done. Yes, the enemy of my enemy is my friend. No, Trump is not that friend. The obviously traitorous asshat is going to betray you. You think you’ll survive the betrayal until till too late to save yourself.

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  46. Pch101 says:

    @Jim Brown 32:

    I find it amusing that you’re consistently off the mark, yet you believe that you have something valuable to contribute.

    Helping Trump in his efforts to attack the supposed Freedom Caucus means assisting in the destruction of Obamacare while giving Trump a healthcare win. How stupid could you possibly be?

    The best thing for Democrats is Republican instability. Democrats benefit from a fractured GOP.

    What Democrats don’t need is for Republicans to put aside their internal differences, as that means that the GOP will be unified against the Democrats. The only people who could possibly want what you want are members of the Republican establishment and idiots.

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  47. michael reynolds says:

    @Jim Brown 32:
    There is no such opportunity. That’s an illusion.

    The GOP controls both houses: Trump + Democrats ≠ bills passed.

    The only place even to consider support is in the infrastructure bill (if it ever happens) but the funding for the bill will come from safety net programs, scientific research, family planning, the arts and the EPA. The GOP certainly isn’t going to take it from defense, now are they? And any such bill will be larded with ways fro Trump to make money, because Trump will see any bill as a license to steal for his kids and his companies.

    In exchange we give this traitor, this thief diplomatic cover behind ‘bipartisanship?’ No, that is a bad deal. No normalizing of Trump.

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  48. grumpy realist says:

    Re: whether the D’s should be trying to work with Trump

    I’m reminded of the advice about suitable allies said by Cantra, in Sharon Lee and Steve Miller’s Liaden series:

    Will be shoot? And will he aim at your enemy?

    I wouldn’t trust Trump to carry out either.

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  49. Jim Brown 32 says:

    @KM: The enemy of my enemy is a dynamic that allows me the opportunity to get rid of one of them. Why have two enemies when I can take a calculated risk to only have one? Betrayal is a fundamental part of the human condition–have a plan to minimize the damage. Or as Sec’y Mattis used to say: “Have a plan to kill everyone you meet”

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  50. Jim Brown 32 says:

    @KM: While I appreciate men and women that can set those plays up….Im not that person. A simple double cross–is only barely about the checkers level. Its really a no-risk play for your side right now.

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  51. Jim Brown 32 says:

    @Pch101: Spoken by the King (or Queen) of strawmen. Nice job of impeaching your own flawed interpretation of what Im communicating. You get an A+ Please–Try to keep up

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  52. Jim Brown 32 says:

    @michael reynolds: You’re wrong here Michael. It not about the bills. Its about getting severly diminishing the HFC–you know–the guys you have ZERO chance in hell of working with? Frankly, what do Dems have to lose? They’ve got nothing–and its not like the map favors them in 2018. Hoping Trump and Republicans implodes is not a strategy. 40% of them are going to vote “R” again no matter what happens.

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  53. grumpy realist says:

    @Jim Brown 32: Except that Trump isn’t going to demolish the HFC. He can’t do anything. (Including, it seems, remembering to sign EOs.)

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  54. DrDaveT says:

    @grumpy realist:

    Sharon Lee and Steve Miller’s Liaden series

    First Flanders and Swann, now Lee and Miller? Where were you when I was 25?

    BTW, it’s “In the matter of allies only two things are important. First, can he shoot? Second, will he aim at your enemy?”

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