Many Republicans in Congress were reeling after President Trump’s unexpected deal with House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer to raise the national debt limit and keep the federal government funded in exchange for Hurricane Harvey relief.
With his collaboration with “Chuck and Nancy,” as Trump labeled them, the president snubbed the congressional GOP leadership’s plans while handing Democrats leverage to push their own big agenda items, such as passing a law to grant legal status to undocumented immigrants brought to the U.S. as young children.
But it is the GOP establishment leaders, including House Speaker Paul Ryan and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, who’ve come under fire from the conservative media, where Trump’s across-the-aisle agreement has been touted by many as an example of the independent, swamp-draining deals he promised to make during the campaign.
The greatest show of support for Trump’s deal with the Democrats has taken place on decidedly pro-Trump Fox News, starting with conservative commentator Laura Ingraham’s appearance on Sean Hannity’s talk show Thursday night.
“Oh, woe is us. We’re betrayed,” Ingraham said, mocking congressional Republicans’ shock over Trump’s pivot toward Pelosi and Schumer. “Where was all of their concern and urgency over the last six weeks?”
Although she admitted that she does not agree with the Democrats’ position on many issues, including the debt ceiling, Ingraham argued that Trump “is a conservative populist. That means at times, if Republicans don’t deliver legislation he can sign on the critical matters that he campaigned on, he’s going to look to move the ball down the field with another set of players.”
A cacophony of complimentary commentators on “Fox & Friends,” perhaps Trump’s favorite show, echoed that sentiment Friday morning.
“His so-called allies in the Republican Party, they sure didn’t do him any favors during health care,” said Fox contributor Geraldo Rivera, who argued that “the best thing” about Trump’s deal with Pelosi and Schumer “is the signal he sent down the road, or rather up Pennsylvania Avenue to Capitol Hill, to Paul Ryan, Mitch McConnell: ‘If you don’t play ball with me, then I’m gonna deal with the devil.’”
Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich agreed, admitting that though he would “feel a bit irritated if I was Speaker Ryan,” Trump ultimately made a “very smart deal.”
“I don’t think this is some gigantic earthquake,” Gingrich said. “I think it’s an immediate, tactical move by the president to get some momentum.”
Conservative blogger Michelle Malkin was equally dismissive of “consternation” from the Republican Party, telling the “Fox & Friends” hosts, “I don’t know who would be surprised. President Trump, when he was a candidate, signaled that he would do these kinds of deals. He is the master of the art of the deal.”
“Of course, I chafe with every conservative, ideological bone in my body at the idea of tying hurricane relief to a debt limit increase,” Malkin argued, but “this is what you get” when Republican leaders “check out” over the summer.
“Ultimately this is about voters,” she said. “If you don’t like stupid, you can’t fix it but you can vote it out.”
Former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee — who ran against trump in the 2016 primary and has since shifted much of his focus to commentary — also defended Trump in his email newsletter Friday, insisting that the president “is not an ideologue, he’s a dealmaker.”
“Instead of blasting Trump for turning elsewhere, the Republican leadership should chalk this up to lessons learned: If you want to be at the dealmakers’ table, then prove you deserve to be there by showing him you can accomplish something,” wrote Huckabee. “This one small deal with their opponents doesn’t mean ‘You’re fired,’ but it does say, ‘You’re on thin ice. Shape up and get it together.’”
The divisive deal even drew some support from those who aren’t Trump’s staunchest allies. Ben Domenech, who previously made the case “Against Trump” at the National Review, praised this week’s presidential shift as “spectacular” in the Federalist.
Not everyone in the conservative media world was as enthusiastic over Trump’s about-face, however.
RedState columnist Susan Wright argued that Trump’s willingness to take the Democrats’ offer on the debt ceiling actually serves as evidence against “his fabled ‘deal making’ skills.”
“No wonder the man has multiple bankruptcies, failed marriages, and has left a long line of small businessmen and creditors hanging,” she wrote. “For those who have endlessly warned that Trump was no conservative,” she concluded, “was a Republican of convenience, and that he would betray his base, his party, and the country, we’re not surprised, at all.”
Commentary columnist Noah Rothman countered the notion held by some traditional Republicans that Trump’s latest actions serve as proof of his secret, leftist beliefs in a column titled “Trump Doesn’t Know What He’s Doing.”
“He’s done some conservative things, and he’s done some liberal things,” wrote Rothman. “Where Trump-skeptical conservatives have a point is their contention that pragmatism untampered by principle is dangerous.”
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