Why split with Sessions may pit Trump agenda against Trump himself

SMU Political Science Professor Cal Jillson on what to expect as President Trump and Attorney General Jeff Sessions openly disagree..

 By Henry Gass and Patrik Jonsson
Staff writers

The Trump presidency has, at times, adopted the style and tone of “The Apprentice,” the reality television show that made Donald Trump a household name.

But this latest incarnation – which sees the president publicly mulling whether to fire Attorney General Jeff Sessions, one of his earliest and most ardent supporters – seems to have brought the varying, and conflicting, priorities of the Trump administration and the Republican Party to a head.

The Sessions imbroglio suggests to political observers that Mr. Trump has fealty to his and his own first, a stance that could jeopardize his own policy agenda and spark more serious conflicts – with Republican allies in Congress, and perhaps even with his own voters. For lawmakers, who have rushed to defend Mr. Sessions, there's an additional concern: a desire to protect rule of law and the independence of the US Justice Department.

Trump began openly criticizing Sessions last week when he told The New York Times that if he’d known Sessions would recuse himself from the Justice Department investigations into Russian government involvement in the 2016 election, he wouldn’t have appointed him. . . . 

It took a long time for candidate Trump to earn the support of establishment Republicans. With Trump now attacking one his earliest and strongest establishment supporters – and potentially alienating his base in the process – political observers believe that fragile support could be in danger of breaking.

Republicans “don’t want Trump to do something that disrupts their electoral prospects going forward,” like firing Sessions and then forcing out Mueller, says Cal Jillson, a political scientist at Southern Methodist University in Dallas. However, “they don’t want to undercut the president so thoroughly that his presidency is rendered moot.”

“If Republicans turn on Trump ... he is alone, and the Republican Party’s agenda is without a leader,” he adds.

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