How Have President Trump's Bipartisan Efforts Been Received By Republicans?

Sep 21, 2017
Originally published on September 21, 2017 7:59 pm
Copyright 2017 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

AILSA CHANG, HOST:

The president got some welcome news this week. Several new polls show that his approval ratings once at historic lows have now ticked up. It seems people like how he's responded to the recent hurricanes. And then there is his new willingness to make deals with Democrats. But what does the president's base think? NPR's Mara Liasson takes a look.

MARA LIASSON, BYLINE: Donald Trump came to Washington to disrupt American politics, and he has - so much so that his party, along with everyone else, is experiencing whiplash. After making a bipartisan deal with Democrats on government funding and reversing his campaign rhetoric about a program for young immigrants known as DACA, the president was back to serving up rhetorical red meat at the United Nations and pushing a purely partisan effort to get rid of Obamacare. So which was the real Donald Trump? Former RNC Communications Director Doug Heye says like so much about the president, that's not clear.

DOUG HEYE: We don't fully know yet because we've seen three or four Donald Trumps in just the last three or four weeks. There's a lot that Republicans are taking solace in. There's a lot that's causing them consternation.

LIASSON: First there was the way he made the fiscal deal with Democratic leaders, blindsiding Republicans in Congress.

HEYE: Throw into that the Trump announcement on DACA. If you were one of the original hardcore, true believers for Donald Trump, you had real trouble answering exactly what Donald Trump was doing.

LIASSON: Sam Nunberg is one of those original hardcore, true believers, and he's a former political adviser to Trump.

SAM NUNBERG: I would be considered an immigration hawk, let's say. I'm a nationalist. I'm a Breitbart reader. And I don't have a problem with DACA. But if I don't get the wall funded - if we don't get anything that's real enforcement, then this is something that we've given up and gotten nothing in return.

LIASSON: Trump understands this, although he said publicly he would not insist on funding for the wall as part of a deal on DACA. His campaign is also running Facebook ads targeted to specific supporters that say, quote, "despite a lot of noise and a lot of rumors, we will build a wall, not a fence." Nunberg says that while Trump's pending deal on DACA got him a round of applause in the form of positive media coverage and now better poll numbers, the president is still risking a backlash from his base.

NUNBERG: Look. He was elected as an idea. We don't want him to turn into the typical politician. I'm not going to dispute that he has a particular part of his base that will support him regardless if he changes or registers to be a Democrat. But it's not as big as people think. I don't think it's as strong as people think. I just think that at the end of the day, when - Republicans are going to have to start saying, what did I get? What did I get from my Republican president?

LIASSON: Marc Rotterman, a longtime Republican strategist in North Carolina, says in the Trump era, it's a mistake to think about just two parties.

MARC ROTTERMAN: What you're really looking at is you have the Trump party. You have the Democrats, and you have the Republicans in the House and Senate.

LIASSON: This week there's a real-time test of just how loyal Trump supporters really are. Tomorrow the president is going to Alabama to campaign for Luther Strange, the Republican Senate candidate backed by Republican Senate Leader Mitch McConnell. Marc Rotterman thinks Trump's trip to Alabama is a bad idea because in this case, the Trump party, Trump's base, is at odds with the Republican Party in Congress.

ROTTERMAN: I think this is a proxy fight between McConnell and conservatives. And I think the president would have been wise to stay out of this. I know he is going down. I would say to you that I don't - I would not expect the type of crowds that he usually gets.

LIASSON: And a lot of Trump fans who come to see the president might leave that rally and go vote for Strange's opponent, Roy Moore, despite Trump's urging.

ROTTERMAN: He is putting his prestige on the line for somebody who the base looks at as the hand-picked candidate of the swamp.

LIASSON: In the Alabama Senate primary, the president is not just supporting the Republican establishment candidate, Luther Strange. He's facing off against his former aides. Breitbart, the alt-right website run by his former top adviser, Steve Bannon, is going all-out to elect Strange's opponent, Roy Moore. And tonight, just one day before Trump comes to Alabama, another former adviser, Sebastian Gorka, is headlining a rally for Moore alongside Sarah Palin.

This intramural Republican battle may seem like very inside baseball, but the outcome will say a lot about whether or not Trump voters are so loyal to him they'll follow his advice and vote for a candidate they think represents everything Trump ran against. Mara Liasson, NPR News, Washington. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.