Opinion

Trump and Schumer: A New York odd couple

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As Democrats move, slowly, beyond the alternating waves of nausea, anger and outrage, the future is taking shape. Whatever the mood of the activist base, Donald Trump and Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer need to make deals. There's too much at stake.

Both need room to maneuver that will be difficult for their ideologically inclined supporters to accept. Both men understand each other, personally and politically. Democrats need political solutions, not just anger. Trump needs to get some things done, early. They need each other.

The Democratic base is floundering in the early response period. Meetings of the Establishment have been called by well-meaning billionaires; labor is fractured with the building trades fighting the public sector unions for control; activists with a focus on identity politics and environmentalists are girding for battle; the Democratic National Committee may have a smart new leader in Keith Ellison, but does he have the toughness for the national stage?

As a long-term political strategy it will do little good to repeat the charges of racism and misogyny that Trump has earned through his statements, actions and the company he keeps. Democrats should continue to speak for folks who have been excluded and stepped on. But Democrats also earned their disastrous electoral defeat. The failure to address the economic needs of those who lost in the shift to globalism was a choice. Lots of the base walked away. Michigan? Wisconsin? This needs to change.

The Senate Minority is the last remaining center of actual Democratic power, and will be led by New York’s own Chuck Schumer. Because Republicans need 60 votes to do most things, Schumer will need to unify the 48 Democrats. There will be, and needs to be, principled opposition to Trump's promised rollback of the 21st century. His actions on abortion rights, Supreme Court nominees, climate change, immigration and more will galvanize a lot of folks, and rightfully so. Senate Dems will need to unify in opposition. But pure opposition won't be enough, for the country or the party.

There are other massive issues, mostly economic, where Schumer and Trump need each other. Obamacare, trade deals, infrastructure, tax reform and corporate power are areas where there is substantial commonality. Trump's right-wing populism included positions on these issues that Dems could easily embrace. Not all of them, especially on tax policy, but some.

Schumer will rightly reject the kind of political obstructionism he deplored for the last eight years. He needs to re-establish Democratic concern for the middle class. He has interests to protect nationally and in New York, like hospitals, immigrant communities and mass transit. He can't do it without Trump.

Trump will also need protection from his extreme right. On Obamacare, for example, there's a swath of Republicans who would simply repeal and substitute cross-state border private insurance and say to hell with it. He's too shrewd to dis-insure 10 million Americans in his first six months. A deal with Dems and more centrist Republicans is in his interest.

That kind of commonality of interest will emerge sooner rather than later.

Trump's first big move will likely be an infrastructure package of significant size. It's really a Democratic, stimulus-type, high-investment idea. Trump has to pay for it. Will he steal Hillary's secret plan to repatriate overseas corporate cash at favorable rates and use his portion for infrastructure? Will he raise the national gas tax? Where will the money go? Schumer will have a lot to say about the final package.

Trump will also need allies on trade, where lots of Republicans don't agree with him. Will Democrats finally abandon their Clinton-era support of free trade deals? Schumer will likely not want to whip up Democratic opposition to re-negotiating the old and new treaties. But he also wants Trump to find out for himself how difficult it may be to rule with only Republican votes.

Pick an economic issue and the opportunity for Schumer to mitigate the damage will show up. The results will not be a triumph of progressive policies and values. The next four years will be very difficult for most Democrats. But he needs to try.

Can he manage his 48 votes to successfully negotiate? Maybe, but only if the Democratic base permits such cooperation with Trump. Democratic senators will face the same dynamic their Republican colleagues faced. Do you risk a primary by working with a president who is truly disliked by your base?

In the end, it's better for the party, the people and the nation if Schumer tries to work with Trump. Progressives need to fight the worst of Trump's extreme agenda and Schumer needs to be a part of that. But Democrats also need to cut him some political slack and let him negotiate with Trump. The party's political interest in seeing Trump fail is not good policy. Americans and Democrats have far too much at stake to refuse to mitigate the economic and social consequences of Trump run wild. Give him room.

Elections have consequences. Politics is the art of the possible. There are a host of clichés that inform the choices that Schumer has to make. They're clichés because they're true. That doesn't make them easy or palatable.

The New York odd couple, Trump and Schumer, will determine just how bad things get.

Richard Brodsky is a former assemblyman who is in the private practice of law and serves as a senior fellow at both Demos and NYU's Wagner School. He is a regular columnist for the Albany Times Union and The Huffington Post.

 

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