Tures: Should Trump work with the Freedom Caucus or Democrats in Congress?

Published 10:00 am Tuesday, April 18, 2017

“England has no permanent friends or enemies,” Henry John Temple was quoted as saying.  “Only permanent interests.” With that, the British Prime Minister of the 1850s and 1860s, known better at Lord Palmerston, engaged in a policy of realism. The United Kingdom even teamed up with Napoleon III of France and the Ottoman Empire to battle the Russians over Crimea, showing that the country could make alliances with any strange bedfellows, and clash with old allies from the Napoleonic Wars.

During the Cold War, the United States faced two powerful Communist adversaries: the Soviet Union and the People’s Republic of China. Even the most ardent patriot often doubted whether the USA could handle both, whose populations and armies dwarfed our own.

But President Richard Nixon, on the advice of neorealist Professor Henry Kissinger, his National Security Adviser, chose to place itself squarely between the two, with neither preference nor opposition to either. As a result, the Nixon-Kissinger alliance triggered a bidding war between the two autocracies, as Russia and China found themselves trying to strike a deal with the United States to keep from being outflanked by the other. It also increased the hostility between the two Communist regimes, dividing our enemies.

From this, the USA wound up normalizing relations with Mao’s China, and getting overdue cooperation with the USSR on SALT I, as well as the Anti-Ballistic Missile treaty, ushering in an era of détente. The two Republicans found a way to turn Communists against each other, while reducing our precarious position of having to face two superpowers who would otherwise be aligned in a global revolution against us.

Donald Trump finds himself in a similar situation. His attempts at changing the Affordable Care Act (dubbed Obamacare by the media) are in shambles. If anything, polls show Obamacare is now more popular than ever. Additionally, the ill-conceived travel ban was opposed by the public, and the courts. His best success has been the nomination of Neil Gorsuch to the Supreme Court, but it took the nuclear option to get him confirmed.

Trump faces two adversaries: the Democrats and the Freedom Caucus. The President ignored the former, and attempted to appease the latter in the health care debate, with nothing to show for it. So what can Trump, and his rivals, learn from Lord Palmerston, Richard Nixon, and Henry Kissinger?

A solution could be making alliances with old adversaries, keeping all options on the table. This would mean possibly crossing party lines, and compromising ideals, in efforts to get a deal done.

In a pair of articles with the New York Observer, I identify how Trump could work with the Democrats in several areas.  First, on the subject of infrastructure, Democrats want more spending in this area than the Freedom Caucus, something Trump also wants.  They may have to allow private investment to tag along with such building projects, but the price of a deal may be worth it.

In foreign policy, I identify how Trump has received support from a number of Democrats in Congress over his use of missile strikes to oppose Syria’s Assad using chemical weapons against his own people.  Trump is getting more opposition from the most conservative members of Congress over the launching of Tomahawk Missiles.

It may be time for Team Trump to consider working more with Democrats than rebellious Republicans.  Hard core supporters from each party might balk at such a notion, but as the old saying goes “Only Nixon could go to China.”

John A. Tures is a professor of political science at LaGrange College.  He can be reached at jtures@lagrange.edu.  You can also send tweets at @JohnTures2.