Independent President: Why Trump's deal with Democrats wasn't a shock

Many Republicans are shocked that President Trump did a budget deal with the Democrats, opting for “Chuck and Nancy” in an Oval Office meeting over Paul and Mitch.

They shouldn’t be.

Whether the three-month debt ceiling agreement is a fleeting political maneuver or a presidential hammer against his own party, it’s not terribly surprising. Trump has been increasingly frustrated with McConnell and Ryan for failing to pass much of anything since he took office. So he struck a deal with Schumer and Pelosi.

The move underscores what I’ve always maintained about Donald Trump, that he’s basically an independent president. He’s a onetime Democrat who vanquished the Republican establishment, but has never been wedded to GOP orthodoxy.

Some on the right are criticizing the president for barely negotiating. The Republican leaders pushed an 18-month debt ceiling extension, then a six-month deal, but Trump just took the Democrats’ three-month proposal, tied to immediate aid for Hurricane Harvey.

On substance, Trump didn’t give up much. Conservatives always demand spending cuts when the debt ceiling comes up but rarely win, since the alternative is a government default. And Congress is going to provide tens of billions in aid related to the monster hurricane that hit Texas and the one that’s about to hit Florida.

On tactics, though, the president may have handed the Dems an advantage. They can push for a massive bill at Christmas time that not only raises the debt limit but legalizes the Dreamers program. After having Jeff Sessions announce that they’re ending the program in six months, Trump has said that he loves the dreamers (who were brought here illegally by their parents), that they have “nothing to worry about,” and that he’ll revisit the issue if the Hill doesn’t act.

What’s been fascinating about the coverage is that rather than crediting Trump for a bipartisan approach, much of the media has reveled in him sticking it to the Republicans. And many pundits are just puzzled whether the president is switching gears or this is a one-off compromise.

Trump, as a New Yorker, knows Schumer pretty well, but until now he’s tried to govern along party lines, especially on ObamaCare. But McConnell’s failure to deliver on a health care bill—he had only two votes to lose in a 52-48 Senate—fueled what has become a tense relationship with the majority leader.

If Trump wanted to win Democratic votes on tax reform and infrastructure and even immigration, he would hold onto enough Republicans to push through major legislation, even while losing the Freedom Caucus types. Ronald Reagan had a working majority on the Hill because he peeled off Democratic votes.

But such an approach would deeply divide the GOP and cost Trump in the conservative media. Steve Bannon’s Breitbart covered the budget deal yesterday with a “Meet the Swamp” headline.

This may turn out to be a footnote, but the future of Donald Trump’s relationship with the Republican Party seems to be in play.

Howard Kurtz is a Fox News analyst and the host of "MediaBuzz" (Sundays 11 a.m.). He is the author of five books and is based in Washington. Follow him at @HowardKurtz. Click here for more information on Howard Kurtz.