Gorka applauds Trump for putting 'a massive hole in the hull' of GOP leaders

Former White House adviser Sebastian Gorka defends President Donald Trump siding against his own party on the debt ceiling. (WJLA)

President Donald Trump’s alliance with Democrats against his own party’s congressional leadership this week “should be a wake-up call” to Republicans who are still resisting the pull of the Trump train, according to former White House adviser Sebastian Gorka.

In a meeting with leaders from both parties Wednesday, Trump shocked even some of his own aides by agreeing to a deal proposed by Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi to extend the federal debt ceiling for three months in exchange for Democratic votes for relief funds for Hurricane Harvey victims.

Hours before the meeting, House Speaker Paul Ryan had dismissed Schumer’s offer of a short-term debt ceiling hike as “a ridiculous idea,” but the bill passed in the House Friday over conservative objections by a vote of 316-90.

Despite his reservations, Ryan said Thursday that he understood Trump’s reasoning.

“What the president didn’t want to do is have some partisan fight in the middle of the response to this,” he said, referring to Hurricane Harvey. “He wanted to make sure we had a bipartisan moment.”

The legislation, which includes $15.3 billion in disaster aid, now goes to President Trump for his signature.

Gorka declared Trump’s handling of the issue, which inspired much grumbling from Capitol Hill Republicans and some gloating from Democrats, “masterful.”

“He didn’t just send a shot across the bows of the GOP, he put a massive hole in the hull of people like Paul Ryan and Mitch McConnell,” Gorka said. “He sent a message: ‘I can do business with Democrats. Do you realize that I am not beholden to the establishment?’”

Gorka left the administration last month amid friction with new Chief of Staff John Kelly and his own concerns that people like him who supported the platform Trump ran on were being boxed out.

“We realized, look, we are committed to the agenda the president ran on,” he said. “If we can’t affect it from inside the building, we are far more able to support him on the outside.”

According to Gorka, Trump is “a very positive disruptive force” in Washington, and Republicans in Congress should not take the support of the Republican president for granted.

“There’s a lack of recognition among certain key players on the Hill that November the 8th wasn’t the GOP victory,” he said. “It really wasn’t. The president was the rank outsider. He may formally have been the Republican candidate for president, but this was a man who doesn’t represent the establishment.”

He readily acknowledged that Trump’s actions weakened the position of Ryan and McConnell, but he insisted there is good reason for that.

“It should marginalize their leadership until they realize November 8th was a signal, not just to the left,” he said. “It was a signal to the GOP establishment.”

Republican strategist Matt Mackowiak is unconvinced that Trump’s deal-making with Democrats was the brilliant multi-dimensional chess move Gorka claims, but he sees a narrow path by which it could plausibly advance the GOP agenda.

“The only way this deal Trump cut with Schumer works to Trump's advantage is if it results in tax reform by the end of the year,” he said. “The best-case scenario is that they cleared the decks and preserved the rest of September to pass a budget and begin consideration of tax reform under reconciliation, building momentum along the way.”

What worries rank-and-file Republicans, according to Mackowiak, is that Trump appears to have gotten nothing in return for siding with Schumer and Pelosi, merely delaying the fight over the debt ceiling until December when Democrats might have an even stronger negotiating position.

“The concern is that if he cut a bad deal once, he will do it again in the future,” he said.

While Trump defying Ryan and McConnell may delight the alt-right, Mackowiak argued the gulf between them does the party no good in the long run.

“Trust between the president and Capitol Hill leadership is at a new low, and when one party is divided, the party that's united almost always benefits,” he said.

From a policy perspective, a three-month deal on the debt limit is relatively minor, according to Dan Franklin, a professor of political science at Georgia State University, but “it’s hard to overstate the symbolic importance of this.”

On the plus side, Franklin said Republicans have found in recent years that it is easier to govern as the party out of power, so this type of arrangement may free them up to disown necessary spending decisions their conservative base opposes.

“I guess the silver lining for the Republicans is if Trump starts striking deals with the Democrats, then they can complain about it and not take responsibility,” he said.

After the frustrating failure to pass a health care reform bill with only Republican votes, this quick, easy vote with Democratic support may be appealing to Trump.

“It puts the fire under the feet of congressional Republicans, and I suspect he’ll be tempted to do more of this because it appears it’s a much easier win for him than dealing with the Republicans,” Franklin said.

On Wednesday, Trump floated the possibility that he may make a deal with “Chuck and Nancy” on the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrival program as well.

"We discussed that also today, and Chuck and Nancy would like to see something happen, and so do I," he told reporters on Air Force One. "And I said if we can get something to happen, we're going to sign it and we're going to make a lot of happy people."

For Democrats, Franklin said there is no immediate downside to working with Trump because the alternative is being completely shut out of the process as they often have been during the last seven months.

“It’s a bit of a no-lose,” he said. “They’re not getting anything anyway.”

If Trump fails to follow through on a promise, it gives them one more thing to criticize him over. Franklin did warn, though, that their supporters have a low tolerance for cooperation with the Trump White House.

“They’re going to want to avoid getting too much in bed with him because the Democrats have a base too,” he said.

According to Democratic strategist Craig Varoga, Democrats will not make the mistake Republicans have of convincing themselves Trump will suddenly become a normal, reliable politician.

“Trump’s whole approach seems to be an impulsive mix of lies, abuse, and rootless, grudge-driven reversals,” he said.

Congressional Democrats may find there are occasions where those tendencies enable them to work with Trump to advance policies they support, but Varoga expects those instances will be rare despite this week’s flash of bipartisanship.

“If the country is lucky, there might be two or three examples in the next several years of Trump and Congress agreeing enough, even if accidentally, to do what’s right for the American people,” he said. “But I wouldn’t advise that anybody, regardless of party or profession, hold their breath waiting for that to happen.”

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