For much of the year, it's seemed that Trump, McConnell, and Ryan have had powerful incentives to work together rather than fight each other. If Trump wants to get his appointees confirmed, he needs McConnell in the Senate. If McConnell wants Trump to appoint people he likes, he needs to have good relations with Trump.
And they all have important personal stakes in the Republican Party doing well in 2018 — McConnell and Ryan want to keep their majorities, and Trump wants to avoid a Democrat-controlled house of Congress dogging him with investigations, subpoenas, and so on.
So why do you think they might have a falling-out anyway?
I think what we're seeing now is a realization on the part of both Trump and congressional Republicans that there may be this fight in the party over whose fault it was that the agenda didn't sail right through. Neither side wants to take the blame, because if you do take the blame, there may be repercussions in the future from primary challenges, from challenges to leadership positions, from a party base that is exasperated with its own elected officials.
I do think that from the point of view of the Republicans in Congress, the congressional leadership, they would very much prefer not to openly break with Trump. They will say nasty things about him on background, but they understand it does them no good to wind up in an open war with the White House.
A lot of those juicy quotes on background, I think, are attempts to provide a kind of strategic guidance to him. "Stop saying these things about Charlottesville and start talking about tax reform!" They're rooting for him to succeed because they do understand that their own fate is linked to his.
But from Trump's point of view, he was deferential to the congressional leadership on the legislative agenda and the legislative strategy, with the idea that if he let them figure that stuff out, then they knew best how to push this stuff through and get it to him to sign, and everyone would be happy. And that has not worked out.
It also seems that when someone criticizes Trump, he just instinctually feels that it's necessary to hit back much harder. We've seen that when McConnell chided him for inexperience, when Jeff Flake published that very critical book, and so on.
Trump seems to view these as a challenge to his own dominance in the party, and he could be trying to bloody up a couple of people in the party that have criticized him, to send a message to the others.
There may be some strategy there. But there's also, I think, some emotion. There are a lot of things that Trump is going to fail at during his presidency, and that he's going to be frustrated by.