New York State of Mind

President Trump won't be on the 2018 ballot, but if challengers are smart, the election will be all about him

In one of the biggest surprises in eight months of shocking twists, turns and tweets, President Trump has started up peace talks with Democratic congressional leaders Chuck Schumer and Nancy Pelosi. It's making his Republican lapdogs sad and confused; how might we explain such a seeming contradiction?

First off, Trump never has been a "movement conservative." He's a dealmaker, and with almost nothing to show as president so far, he needs to make a deal with somebody.

There's another simple explanation: Both Democrats are big-city people, comfortable with the rough-and-tumble, the diversity, even the lingo — the shared culture, so to speak. Could it be that Trump just would rather spend his time with New Yorkers and people from the Bay Area?

Like many New Yorkers, Trump is crude — pretty much a New York pastime. He is loud, as are New Yorkers weaned on hailing cabs and waiters. When you think about it, Trump has little cultural common ground with either Mitch McConnell or Paul Ryan. McConnell grew up in a small town in Alabama. His family moved to Georgia, then on to Kentucky. And Ryan? His roots go back to a small city in southern Wisconsin. No New York, no San Francisco.

So maybe all we're seeing here are shared social comfort levels being used as a means of communication. It's informality, translated into deals that rely on mutual understandings; something more basic than ideology. It seems trivial, I know, but we are talking about Donald Trump here. If I'm right, what does this mean for the upcoming midterm elections?

The sparring and fundraising over Washington's 5th Congressional District has already begun. Seven-term incumbent Cathy McMorris Rodgers will have lots of money and also what's left of Trump's " base" rooting her on. But the evidence of her 13-year tenure shows her consistently working against the interests of her district, as challenger Lisa Brown has already pointed out. It's as if our congresswoman believes that Spokane is the economic mirror image of Mercer Island or Kirkland. McMorris Rodgers has stuck with Trump even on his very unpopular health care bill — by consensus, the worst, most draconian, out-of-touch piece of legislation to come along in decades. That health care bill, if approved (and now it's coming back again), would take away health care from tens of millions of Americans while putting local hospitals out of business. And let's not stop there: McMorris Rodgers has voted against food stamps and the continued level of funding for the Community Development Block Grant program, and she can't even figure out how to frame a good farm bill.

But this all plays just fine to "the base" — the Trump base, that is.

Trouble is, we've all seen the numbers, and it's a shrinking base — likely to shrink more, because their hero is now consorting with Democrats. Still, according to polls, the most bedrock elements of his base seem to be sticking with Trump. For now.

If the Trump base begins to feel abandoned, however, Republicans could lose the House, perhaps even the Senate. If the base holds, McMorris Rodgers' chances of keeping her seat improve.

So for the time being, incumbents tied to Trump are putting on their best smiley faces, despite the fear that watching him yuck it up with Chuck and Nancy elicits.

So Trump and McMorris Rodgers are bound together, sink or swim. It falls to challengers here and in districts all over America to make a case for change — a plea, really, to turn around this ship of state before it runs aground.

One thing is for sure here in the 5th: To win, Lisa Brown can't run the campaign that every Democrat has run here since Tom Foley. She can't win on "politeness." The dark Republican money is already coming after her.

But she has something that previous opponents haven't had. She has Trump. Brown must drape the president around McMorris Rodgers until all you see is Trump — a man who combines the worst of Chance in the movie Being There, the derangement of old King George III and the temperament of a spoiled 6-year-old.

Meanwhile, our Secretary of State has all but disappeared. Dozens of high-ranking important positions remain unfilled. Morale is at rock bottom. Confusion is the word of the day. It's creating a profoundly dangerous situation, leaving America's future in the hands of three military-clad babysitters and one Arizona senator who is dying of a brain tumor.

And now, by ditching congressional Republicans for the more familiar likes of Chuck Schumer, Trump seems to be hanging his foot soldiers out to dry, just as the election looms.

McMorris Rodgers has been a most loyal Trumpette, so this strategy shouldn't be all that difficult. Let the draping begin. ♦