The joke goes something like this: Congressional Republicans and President Trump can't stand each other, but they stay married because of the children — that is, the legislative goals they supposedly share in common. GOP leaders will pretend there's nothing to see here on the Russia investigation; they will ignore the half-cocked tweets; they will deflect any attempt to force Trump to release his tax returns; they will avert their gaze from the nepotism and the myriad conflicts of interest; they will endure charges of hypocrisy as Trump traduces long-held Republican principles on trade and American global leadership.
In short, Republicans will suffer all manner of Trump-induced indignities as long as he signs their damn bills into law.
What they don't seem to realize is that Trump's signature will settle nothing. In fact, Trump will not sign bills into law so much as he will taint them with the inescapable stench of Trump.
Consider first that two of the biggest things the GOP hopes to accomplish — cutting taxes for the wealthy and replacing ObamaCare with the American Health Care Act — are even less popular than the historically unpopular Trump. Under "normal" circumstances — say, a President Rubio or Bush — these efforts were going to be a heavy lift. Under Trump they may be impossible.
But let's just imagine that Trump and the GOP do manage to push these boulders up the hill. They get their bills signed into law — hooray!
Now imagine the toxicity of what would be known as "TrumpCare" and the "Trump tax cuts." His brand — his very name — is an albatross. If ObamaCare is today imperiled, and if George W. Bush's tax cuts for the wealthiest Americans lasted fewer than 10 years, the provisionality of anything that bears Trump's taint will surely be even more acute.
Remember, these measures are already unpopular on the merits. Now they would also be saddled with Trump. Much of the country hates him. Much of the country wants him impeached. Heck, much of the country doesn't even accept that he's a lawfully elected president in the first place.
This liberal denial is melodramatic. But it's also illustrative of our political reality: No legislation signed by this president will be accepted as settled law by a not-inconsiderable plurality of the country that styles itself a "resistance" movement.
Laugh at this melodrama all you want, but Republicans can't deny the headwinds they're facing. The history of congressional midterms is on the side of the minority party. Retaking both chambers of Congress remains a long shot for Democrats, but they are poised for large gains in the House. The democratic socialist Sen. Bernie Sanders is the most popular active politician in the country. A plurality of Republicans support single-payer health care. Americans are drifting from conservatives on most social issues.
Of course, the election of Trump last November made fools of most of us. So might any extrapolations from headwinds facing Republicans today. But it seems increasingly clear that congressional Republicans in the marital analogy employed above are being abused by their spouse: They're sticking around in the hope of reconciliation, only to receive more bruises.
To Paul Ryan and Co., I would say this: You may think Trump's pen is the key to your lifelong dream of overhauling the federal government in your image. But it's not. It's more like Esau's soup: a temporary meal that will cost you your soul.