Republicans, populists, and conservatives have not had it this good in at least a decade, and perhaps not ever – collectively, at least. Populists lifted Donald Trump to the presidency, while Republicans and conservatives continued an eight-year crescendo in majorities in the House, Senate, state legislatures, and gubernatorial seats. The Grand Old Party has its best opportunity since perhaps Reconstruction to remake government from the federal level all the way down to the counties and cities, while at the same time clear the regulatory decks for economic expansion.
And yet, Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer described their situation as … dire. In an appearance on ABC’s The View, Schumer told the host panel that Republicans in Congress have begun itching to abandon Trump after just thirty days in office. "A lot of the Republicans, they're mainstream people,” Schumer explained. “They will feel they have no choice but to break with him,” over what Schumer declared as Trump’s radical agenda. "My prediction is [if] he keeps up on this path,” Schumer concluded, “within three, four months you're going to see a whole lot of Republicans breaking with him.”
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Perhaps the perspective of the top Senate Democrat might be a bit skewed. At least thus far, Congress has moved in lockstep with the new administration, while it appears that Schumer’s colleagues on Capitol Hill have deviated far from the mainstream path. At least four House Democrats have openly encouraged impeachment efforts against the new president, so much so that other House Democrats have begun asking them to please stop talking about it.
Two other House Democrats – Jackie Speier and Earl Blumenauer – have suggested using the 25th Amendment to remove the president. Speier explained in a CNN interview that Trump’s alleged “incapacity” consisted of using the same communication style that won Trump the election. “He has got to get a grip,” Speier told Brianna Keilar, “he has to start acting presidential. … You don’t take on people saying nasty things about them.” That might come as a surprise to the voters who saw him do just that to Republicans and Democrats alike over the course of the election cycle and gave him a 306-232 Electoral College win for it.
In comparison, Republicans on Capitol Hill seem much less flustered with their new status in single-party governance. The House and Senate have begun repealing Barack Obama’s final-hours regulations through the rarely used Congressional Review Act. That allows Congress to not only overturn regulations but also forbids later administrations from re-enacting them without Congressional approval. With Trump in the White House engineering a parallel advance of deregulatory policy in the executive branch, it looks much more like a honeymoon than a pending divorce.
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Schumer’s counterparts in Republican leadership hardly sound alarmed at Trump’s first month in office either. Both Mitch McConnell and Paul Ryan have expressed their misgivings over Trump’s communication style, but both have also concurred with Trump’s policy directions. Ryan went to the Mexican border this week to build support for funding Trump’s wall, while McConnell told Salena Zito that Trump has done exactly what any other Republican president would do.
"Everything that has happened, since he has taken office, has been reassuring to me,” McConnell says of Trump’s performance. “He has picked an absolutely stunning individual for the Supreme Court, [and] we have already put in place the mechanism to repeal and replace Obamacare.”
Of course, the marriage between populists, conservatives, and party-line Republicans will get tested in the future. Will the different factions focus on common goals and stay united through Trump’s first term, offering flexibility on areas of potential disagreement? One key test will take place this week in National Harbor, Maryland. The annual Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) begins Thursday and will feature appearances from both Trump and Vice President Mike Pence. Even that pairing signals a change of sorts and a potential sign of post-election focus. A year ago, Trump backed out of a commitment to speak rather than conform to the moderator format used for all other candidates, while Pence has long been a favorite of the conservative activist groups that attend CPAC.
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The CPAC event carries significant weight within think-tank and grassroots circles. Does it mean anything for the millions of voters who don’t attend political conferences? Perhaps this year more than most, yes. Before 2016, Republicans and conservatives didn’t put a lot of trust in one another, and neither trusted populists at all. That played out at previous CPACs and other conferences, but without the power to govern, the clashes were largely academic.
Single-party governance has raised the stakes significantly in 2017. With only some limited exceptions for Democratic obstructionism – both on presidential appointments and on potential filibusters on legislation – the three-way alliance must show it can deliver on promises made in the election cycle. Trump has to make government work; Republicans have to shrink government while ensuring that the Rust Belt voters don’t wind up paying the price for it.
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All of the competing interests will meld together at CPAC – on the main stage, in the breakout sessions, and in the halls and concourses. Lawmakers will speak and engage on these topics to get a sense of whether they have support for specific policies and general agendas. This won’t be the venue for conclusions, but the interaction at CPAC will portend whether the alliance can hold together while differing on the priorities and the particulars.
The biggest potential fracture points for the GOP’s success in single-party governance are not between the White House and Capitol Hill, as Schumer believes. They lie between these three factions. By the end of CPAC, we may see just how dangerous those fault lines could be.