For the first time in nearly 20 years, the president seems out of alignment, on policy and political goals, with his party in Congress. This strikes many as an anomalous, even alarming situation. But if you look back in history, it's more like the norm, even if Donald Trump isn't.
The current presidential/congressional alignment began in January 1998, when the Monica Lewinsky scandal broke into the news. For several years before that, President Clinton engaged in what was called triangulation, positioning himself on issues between his party's liberal congressional leaders and the conservatism of Speaker Newt Gingrich.
His collaborations with Gingrich resulted in serious bipartisan legislation — welfare reform, a child's healthcare and Medicare package, and balanced federal budgets. In the process, Clinton pointedly ignored House Democratic leader Dick Gephardt. That ended when Clinton needed solid Democratic support on impeachment for lying under oath about his Lewinsky affair.
George W. Bush was generally in sync with congressional Republicans, and when he lost some of their votes, on education and Medicare prescription drugs, he was able to attract enough Democrats to compensate. Barack Obama worked in tandem with Democratic congressional supermajorities in 2009-10, and they supported his "pen and phone" governing process afterwards.
Donald Trump's bombastic anti-Washington rhetoric, including stabs at Republican party leaders, meant that the two decades of presidential-congressional alignment was likely over. His cordial meeting with Democratic leaders Chuck Schumer and Nancy Pelosi, whether or not it results in a Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals immigration enforcement compromise legislation, indicates it is.
Trump did give vague verbal support to Speaker Paul Ryan's and Majority Leader Mitch McConnell's proposals for Obamacare repeal-and-replace and tax cuts. But he reportedly, and plausibly, was miffed when they didn't result in bills he could sign.
Not my fault, he apparently thought. But of course it was, partly, his fault. Bush and Obama had serious policy shops that worked closely with their parties' leaders on both process and policy. Trump doesn't. Bush and Obama and their policy shops were knowledgeable about the contents of major proposals and bills. Trump isn't.
That gives him plenty of room to maneuver. And it undercuts and perhaps completely eliminates the leverage of the 30-some members of the House Freedom Caucus, whose hostility to Ryan prevented him from getting a 218-vote House majority out of his 241-member caucus.
Now Trump and Pelosi have such leverage, as it's clear that withholding Freedom Caucus votes can mean policy victories for the Left. Caucus head Mark Meadows tacitly acknowledged as much when he promised his group would support the Graham-Cassidy healthcare bill if (as appears possible but not certain) it passes the Senate.
Lack of alignment between a president and his congressional party may be unfamiliar, but it's certainly not new. Franklin Roosevelt's New Deal measures passed in crisis years when his party had big majorities, but later he was repeatedly frustrated by isolationist Western and conservative Southern Democrats.
Harry Truman, after his surprise 1948 victory, wasn't able to get his liberal policies through a Democratic Congress. Dwight Eisenhower, at loggerheads with conservative Republicans, was not displeased when they lost their thin majorities in 1954.
By 1963, political scientist and FDR biographer James McGregor Burns was writing The Deadlock of Democracy: Four-Party Politics in America. Like many such works, it accurately described the recent past, but did not foresee how Lyndon Johnson would push his Great Society through a 2-1 Democratic Congress in 1965.
Over the next thirty years, presidents and their congressional parties wandered into and out of alignment with each other. Many of Richard Nixon's toughest Watergate critics were Republicans. Gerald Ford's old congressional colleagues sustained his vetoes, but only just. Speaker Tip O'Neill was openly contemptuous of Jimmy Carter's closest aides.
Ronald Reagan got a bipartisan majority for his tax cuts in 1981, but Bob Dole pushed back with smaller tax increases in 1982. George H.W. Bush lost half his congressional party when he broke his "read my lips, no new taxes" vow in 1990. Bill Clinton worked with Democratic majorities in 1993, but they couldn't pass Hillarycare in 1994.
In that perspective, the recent two decades of close presidential/congressional alignment looks more like the exception than the rule. The Framers of the Constitution, on purpose, established something less like an efficient government and more like an arena of conflict. Presidents and members of Congress are elected at different intervals by different constituencies.
The dealignment of Trump and congressional Republicans may be unnerving, but it's not abnormal.