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Zaleski: The Donald likes Chuck and Nancy

Jack Zaleski, The Forum Michael Vosburg / Forum Photo Editor

It's premature to presume President Donald Trump can forge a political alliance with Democratic leaders of the U.S. Senate and U.S. House. But a political alliance is not the same animal as a personal relationship. Trump has found useful kindred spirits in Senate minority leader Chuck Schumer of New York and House minority leader Nancy Pelosi of California. Trump is plainly more comfortable in the company of the top Democrats than he is with Republican Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky and Republican House Speaker Paul Ryan of Wisconsin.

Trump's "art of the deal" was center stage a couple of weeks ago when he signed onto a plan offered by Democrats to raise the debt ceiling and avoid a government shutdown. He said he'll seek compromise with Democrats on immigrant "dreamers" and border security. He ran roughshod over his advisers' objections, and he whipsawed McConnell and Ryan. He followed up with cozy dinners with Schumer and Pelosi, and later with other Democrats, including Sen. Heidi Heitkamp, D-N.D. Republicans were invited to subsequent meetings, but the story was the overture to Democrats. Republicans were sideliners. That put a twist in GOP knickers.

None of it means Trump is trustworthy or honorable. He's demonstrated he is not. He has turned on "friends" and supporters when they wouldn't kiss his ring. His corpulent ego is so fragile that the slightest slight spins him into a daffy dither. He sucks up praise—legitimate or not—but has yet to show the strength of character a president must have to deflect criticism—fair or not. Schumer and Pelosi are neither naive nor gullible. They know with whom they are deal-making.

Party fidelity is not Trump's priority. Winning is. His contempt for McConnell and Ryan is visceral. They did not win immediate repeal of Obamacare, a promise that was central to Trump's campaign. Regarding the debt ceiling and potential government shutdown, Trump concluded Republicans were spoiling for a fight, while he wanted results. The Democrats had an option. He took it. Republicans were ineffectual. Now the president is courting Democrats and moderate Republicans to advance tax reform. His chumminess with Chuck and Nancy is pivotal to the art of that deal.

It's more about personality than politics. It's more about getting things done than conforming to partisan dogma. Trump might not embrace the Democrat leaders' agenda (although that's not clear), but he likes their company. And why not? He has more in common with big-city politicos Schumer and Pelosi than he does with smarmy Kentucky gentleman McConnell and small-town Wisconsin data wonk Ryan. McConnell certified his scorn for the president during a recent profanity-laced phone call between the two. Ryan is no Trump cheerleader. He was quick to the microphone to condemn the president's initial reaction to the white nationalist riot in Charlottesville, Va. Ryan was right. But in Trumpanistaland, right and wrong are relative, horse-blinder loyalty is orthodoxy, and McConnell and Ryan are recreant losers.

The president's axiology is malleable, his ethics are situational. He harbors no inviolable belief in party canon. He's not a Republican. He's not a Democrat. Thus, he ordains the Chuck and Nancy show on the White House stage, basks in the reluctant applause of a befuddled punditry, and laughs off the petty grousing of feckless GOP leaders. Gotta love it.

Zaleski retired in February after nearly 30 years as The Forum’s editorial page editor. He continues to write a Sunday column. Contact him at or (701) 241-5521.