President Trump and the Republican Congress went their separate ways for the summer on Thursday amid an escalating GOP civil war fueled by mutual distrust and frustration.
Trump is chafing at what he views as his subordinates in Congress failing to repeal Obamacare even as they worked against him with Democrats to pass legislation limiting his ability to cut deals with Russia — a major embarrassment for the self-styled master negotiator.
Republicans are fed up with daily distractions from a chaotic White House and a president who complains but they feel won't get his hands dirty, seemingly preferring to brag about his personal brand on Twitter than committing the full weight of his leadership to passing big legislation — like healthcare reform.
"There's been lack of a vision there — and you have to stay on it," Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., said. "The problem with the White House is, they're for everything. If you're for everything, you wind up being for nothing."
As the Republican-controlled Congress departed Washington for a five-week recess and Trump prepared to decamp to his golf club in Bedminster, N.J., for most of August, the breakdown in trust that was tenuous to begin with threatened to reach irreparable levels and torpedo what was left of their agenda.
Trump's partnership with congressional Republicans has always been something of a shotgun marriage, as underscored by Sen. Jeff Flake, R-Ariz., and the cannon he fired at Trump, risking renomination in his 2018 primary, in a new book and round of interviews to promote the tome.
He's a 71-year-old populist disruptor who was for a time a Democrat, with little use or appreciation for GOP traditions or the conventions of governing. For their part, Republicans on Capitol Hill embraced Trump because they had no choice: Their voters foisted him on them.
The merger works when they win, most prominently with the confirmation of Neil Gorsuch to the Supreme Court. But recent stumbles have revealed how flimsy it is, with recriminations ensuing over the crash of the Obamacare repeal effort and the Republicans' willingness to defy Trump on foreign policy.
"Our relationship with Russia is at an all-time & very dangerous low. You can thank Congress, the same people that can't even give us HCare!" Trump tweeted Thursday morning.
The rift is exposing long-simmering intraparty divisions that go beyond Washington.
Trump was elected in part because he tapped into the cultural angst of an evolving GOP coalition that had lost confidence with party leaders in Washington who they deemed were too cozy with the Democrats and focused on ideological priorities they didn't share, like free trade and entitlement reform.
Yet rather than repairing the fissures and unifying disparate elements of the party, Trump "is throwing gasoline on the fire every day," a former House GOP leadership aide said, leaving congressional Republicans with little desire or motivation to put their futures at risk to deliver for him.
"It's his party apparatus, but it's not his party," the ex-aide said. "Most Republicans probably accept his status in the party but don't have the same loyalty to him that Ronald Reagan or either [President George H.W. or George W.] Bush commanded."
This has led to increasing friction.
Republicans on Capitol Hill are showing an unusual willingness to chastise a president of their own party and rebuke him on policy issues. It's been subtle, usually cloaked in expressed sympathy for his lack of political and governing experience, but unmistakable.
Republicans concede that Trump's status as a political outsider, which worked so well for him in the 2016 campaign, is making collaboration difficult. To be successful, he needs to transform from a party crasher to a party leader; otherwise, tax reform — next on the agenda — could run into the same problems as healthcare.
"Trump was not part of the mainstream Republican establishment, and when he ran for president, he ran as an outlier," Sen. Richard Shelby, R-Ala., who has been in Congress for nearly 40 years, said. "He did it his way, but it was successful. That's part of the problem."
The president, with some liberal leanings and little fidelity to conservative dogma, would seem the perfect fit for triangulating with the Democrats if relations with Republicans continue to deteriorate.
Just this week, the Democrats seemed to invite negotiations with Trump on trade, when Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., said that his party shared more in common with Trump on the issue than the president did with members of his own party.
Whether Schumer was serious or simply trying to drive another wedge between Trump and the Republicans, it's true that the president probably has a better chance of finding a sympathetic voice for his trade policies among Democrats than among members of his own party.
But the president long ago boxed himself in, say Democratic operatives.
His sharp jabs at Hillary Clinton, the Democrat he defeated in 2016, and Democrats on the Hill have made him so toxic with the liberal base that Schumer would probably only be empowered to cut a deal with Trump if he completely capitulated.
"No sense in turning off base voters to take a losing bet on Trump," Democratic strategist Ed Espinoza said.