Trump’s Presidential Leadership & Chuck Schumer (Partner? Foil? Savior?) by Luke Perry
After the election Chuck Schumer was the only major Democrat who was willing to work with Donald Trump. Schumer communicated regularly with the president elect during the transition and expressed interest in potentially collaborating on infrastructure, the economy, and ethics reform. Schumer sought overlap between longstanding Democratic priorities and Trump’s non-traditional brand of conservatism, while tapping into Trump’s populist appeal with working class white men.
Trump Tweeted positively about Schumer, their relationship, and described him as smarter and better at getting things done than previous Democratic leaders. Most of Trump’s Tweets during the time were emphatically negative, particularly toward political opponents, so this was noteworthy. The two were even described as “unlikely partners.”
This fragile truce ended quickly. Democrats became more resolved in their opposition to the president and Trump began criticizing Schumer in January when he led efforts to save Obamacare under the slogan: “Make America Sick Again.”
Schumer claimed Republicans wanted to repeal Obamacare, but had “no idea how to replace it.” President Trump insulted Schumer via Twitter, calling him “head clown,” and claiming Democrats know Obamacare is failing, yet play politics rather than fixing the law.
Last month thousands of Democrats protested outside of Schumer’s Brooklyn apartment urging resistance to Trump’s Cabinet nominees. Schumer voted against most top administrative nominees. Potential Democratic presidential candidates, including fellow U.S. Senator from New York, Kirsten Gillibrand, voted against nearly all of them.
This week President Trump blamed lack of Democratic support for the collapse of the American Health Care Bill and suggested Democrats will be motivated to work with him as Obamacare implodes. These sentiments echo Trump’s approach during the transition, but the Democratic base has pushed all members, including its leaders, to completely oppose and reject the Trump presidency. This includes filibustering the nomination of Neil Gorsuch, the “smoothest undertaking” of the administration to date according to Dan Balz of The Washington Post.
The president’s relationship with Schumer illuminates how Trump’s business style is backward for presidential leadership. Trump projects toughness publicly through relentlessly attacking his enemies, while being much more charming in person. Trump proved this approach can be effective in a campaign, but also how the inverse is more appropriate for presidential leadership.
Going negative doesn’t work as well when you’re the head of the government and your party controls Congress. Schumer can’t save Trump’s fledgling legislative agenda, nor is there much political or policy incentive to do so.
The president should seek to charm the American people– some may call this being more presidential, though his supporters would dismiss that term as contrived –and project toughness in person, whipping Republicans and negotiating with Democrats. Trump’s popularity will stay low and his domestic agenda stalled until this happens, to the great pleasure of Leader Schumer.
Luke Perry (@PolSciLukePerry) is Chair and Associate Professor of Government at Utica College.