"Sorry, Republicans," says President Trump. "We warned you," say Never Trump conservatives.
Trump's deal with Democratic leaders to fund hurricane relief, keep the government open and raise the debt ceiling reignited a feud with conservatives who opposed him during the primaries and in some cases all the way to November.
Anti-Trump conservatives argued he was a deal-cutter with no fixed principles, even a liberal Democratic impostor. He gave money to Democrats as a New York businessman, was once a registered Democrat, and explored a run for the 2000 Reform Party presidential nomination as the more liberal candidate.
Trump nevertheless racked up endorsements and votes from Republicans who said they wanted a fighter who would take on the Left.
"Donald, just a couple of days ago, drew the difference between me and him, and he said look, Ted won't go along to get along, he won't cut a deal," Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, said in New Hampshire during the campaign. "So, if as a voter you think that what we need is more Republicans in Washington to cut a deal with Harry Reid and Nancy Pelosi and Chuck Schumer, then I guess Donald Trump is your guy."
That statement from the conservative runner-up to Trump in the Republican primaries is now being hailed as prophetic. The president agreed to a three-month debt ceiling increase, siding with Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y. and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., over Republican congressional leaders who wanted the extension to last up to 18 months, as well as linking it to funding the government and Hurricane Harvey relief.
Many conservative Republicans protested, including Cruz. "It is unfortunate that congressional leadership and the administration chose to tie Harvey relief to short-term extensions to the CR and the debt ceiling," he said in a statement lamenting lost leverage on spending control. He voted for it, however, because he represents the state hardest hit by Harvey.
The deal was consummated Friday, when Trump signed it into law after it passed both houses of Congress, with more Democratic than Republican votes. Hours earlier, he had poured more fuel onto the fire with a series of tweets chastising Republicans for failing on Obamacare repeal, calling the Senate filibuster a "Repub Death Wish" and demanding swift action on tax reform that cuts taxes — all referring to the GOP as if he wasn't a member, much less its titular leader.
"If predicting what was obvious to the political cognoscenti is vindication, then yes, Cruz is vindicated," said Rick Tyler, a Republican strategist who served as communications director for Cruz's presidential campaign.
Cruz's office didn't respond to a request for comment, but many anti-Trump conservatives feel vindicated too.
The conservative site RedState published a post titled "The Republican Party must look at Donald Trump as their opponent."
Bill Kristol tweeted that conservative Republicans who supported Trump "chose dishonor over defeat, but they will have dishonor [and] defeat." (Kristol is editor-at-large of the Weekly Standard, which has the same ownership as the Washington Examiner.)
Sen. Ben Sasse, R-Neb., responded to Trump's détente with the Democrats with a one-word statement: "The Pelosi-Schumer-Trump deal is bad."
That moniker was also used by conservative opponents of the deal who aren't reflexively hostile to Trump. Heritage Action, for example, urged a "no" vote on the "Pelosi-Schumer-Trump debt ceiling deal."
Republicans who are more supportive of Trump dismiss most of this as sour grapes. They point out that the president supported the Republican congressional leadership's legislative agenda and they failed to put any of the big items on his desk. This deal became law, avoiding both a government shutdown and risk of default.
By getting the spending and debt ceiling fights out of the way for a couple months, Trump cleared the decks for tax reform, which they argue is the party's best opportunity to accelerate economic growth and create jobs, building on the momentum from the administration's deregulation.
"Taxes should be the great unifying force," said a Trump-friendly Republican strategist.
The president's supporters also note that he ran as a master negotiator who could get things done more than as a conservative purist.
"I think he's just trying to make the best possible deals for the American people, plain and simple," said Erin Montgomery, communications director for the pro-Trump America First Policies. "That is what he promised to do, and he is living up to that promise. Getting much-needed relief to the people of Texas and Louisiana in the wake of Hurricane Harvey was the president's number one priority, and he cut a deal to make that happen in the most efficient way possible."
The larger debate is not between Trump and Never Trump, but between different Republican factions over whose judgment was correct about the current president. Trump's conservative detractors maintain that his inner liberal is finally coming out.
"Trump was clear about his disinterest in spending reform during the campaign," tweeted Evan McMullin, who ran as an independent conservative presidential candidate against Trump in the general election and has remained a constant critic. "GOP leaders can't feign surprise now."
Called a "RINO" ("Republican in name only") for his opposition to the Trump deal, Sasse shot back: "seems right… assuming that the definition of ‘RINO' = ‘a conservative concerned about having the Democratic leader set Republican policy.'"
Others remain ready to wait and see.
"I'm supporting the president for 90 days," said Rep. Louie Gohmert, R-Texas, "But we have got to get things in place to get our spending under control, and we have got to get to the healthcare repeal as the president promised. We can't let that go – and the tax cuts, we don't have to worry about the them making a deal with Democrats on tax cuts. They're not for tax cuts. They have never been for tax cuts, not since [John F.] Kennedy."
"The president made clear to some of us in the House — he appreciates us supporting him and helping him get his things done," Gohmert added. "Let's be clear — this has been Republicans in the Senate. That is where the hold-up is on healthcare. It is where the hold-up will be on tax reform, and so Republicans in the House — we're helping him with his agenda."