“Meet the Swamp,” read the headline on the Breitbart News site. Beneath it was a picture of Mr. Trump meeting at the White House with Ms. Pelosi, Mr. Schumer and Mitch McConnell, the Senate majority leader.
Mr. Trump’s move further destabilized a volatile situation for his party, which many Republicans now believe is headed toward a reckoning it can no longer avoid. The party has, for years, been a group of political tribes gathered under one banner. And while Mr. Trump’s victory and unified Republican control of Washington camouflaged longstanding differences within their ranks, it did not reconcile them.
Mr. Trump, who is more of a nominal custodian with his own set of plans than he is a devoted guardian of the party’s legacy and conservative principles, has so far failed to bring the warring factions together. The result has been to harden the same battle lines that formed at the time of the Tea Party uprising of 2009: a restless activist bloc of voters and interest groups who want to supplant the party leadership versus an establishment ruling class that has mostly clung to power.
Mr. Trump was supposed to shatter their hold on power.
That was why many activists and voters swallowed their own reservations about the sincerity of his commitment to their causes, and brushed aside concerns from many fellow Republicans that they were cutting a deal with a charlatan who would inevitably sell them out. Seeing no other alternative but Hillary Clinton as president, they bought into Mr. Trump’s “drain the swamp” promises to upend Washington and forged a bond over their mutual contempt with the Republican Party establishment.
But on Wednesday, prominent conservatives scoffed at the deal that Mr. Trump signed onto — announced first, no less, by congressional Democrats — as something straight from the swamp.
“I know for certain,” said Jenny Beth Martin, a founder of Tea Party Patriots, that grass-roots conservatives “did not work so hard last year to elect majorities in the House and the Senate and get Trump elected in the White House to enact liberal policy priorities.”
With his approval ratings languishing at historic lows, Mr. Trump can hardly afford to lose much more support. And the Republican Party, which was already anxious about losing control of the House in next year’s midterm elections, cannot remain competitive against Democrats if many of its most motivated and reliable voters stay home because they believe their president has betrayed them.
Republicans were already facing a to-do list that threatened to drive them apart over the next several months.
Besides another round in December on the debt ceiling and keeping the government funded, there is a continuing debate over what kinds of tax cuts Congress should approve and whether, as many conservative activists and Democrats believe, the plan Mr. Trump supports is too generous to corporations at the expense of individuals. Also to be resolved are questions about whether the president’s border wall will be paid for and if he can deliver the deep cuts to the federal bureaucracy he promised.
Then, on Tuesday, Mr. Trump tossed to Congress the most emotionally and politically charged issue of all by upending the legal status of 800,000 young undocumented immigrants that were protected under Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA. Lawmakers, he said, should come up with a permanent solution themselves and do it within six months.
Some lawmakers openly aired their disappointment in the president. Representative Joe L. Barton, Republican of Texas, offered a wry take on the deal, one that was not exactly a ringing conservative endorsement. “Well, it shows he’s a bipartisan president,” Mr. Barton said. “I’m just saying, everybody wants us to be bipartisan.”
Given the enormousness of the issues Republicans have to tackle, and their deep divisions over how to do it, many in the party now say they are inching closer to an unavoidable, full-blown civil war.
Stephen K. Bannon, the president’s former chief strategist, has been using a simple Twitter hashtag to sum up to allies and friends his frame of mind about the recent turn of events: #War.
His combativeness captures the attitude that many of Mr. Trump’s supporters have now, as they see conservatives like Mr. Bannon leaving the administration.
Even if Mr. Trump cannot be counted on to fight for the principles he ran on, they say, they will. And that is essentially how Mr. Bannon now sees his role.
Out of government but not out of the game, Mr. Bannon has spent much of the past two weeks visiting with conservative movement leaders, calling them and hosting them at the Capitol Hill townhouse where he also runs Breitbart.
Among them were Ms. Martin, Mr. Brandon, Representative Mark Meadows of the House Freedom Caucus and veterans of past fights between the party’s institutional wing and its restive grass-roots like Ed Meese, President Ronald Reagan’s attorney general, and L. Brent Bozell III, the founder of the Media Research Center.
When he spoke to a gathering of activists one recent Wednesday morning in a conference room in downtown Washington, Mr. Bannon told them their time to rescue the ideas that Mr. Trump ran on and the movement he built is running out. “We can do this, but we have to galvanize now,” he went on as they picked at doughnuts and sipped their coffee. “And you are the backbone of this fight.”
However disappointed they may be in Mr. Trump, many activists seem eager to first take their fight to Republican leaders in the House and Senate, starting with Mr. McConnell and Speaker Paul D. Ryan. Reacting to the news on Wednesday, Ken Cuccinelli, the former Virginia attorney general, said it only reinforced why “ordinary Republicans of every stripe believe leadership must be replaced.”
For decades, said Nicholas Everhart, a Republican strategist who has worked with conservative candidates, “The Republican Party has had developing divisions, fights, and battles going on from the populist, libertarian, America First, social conservative wings.”
Those divisions culminated, he said, with Mr. Trump’s takeover of the party “where he personally vanquished nearly every institutional challenger in the arena with his own bare hands.”
Now many of his supporters are starting to wonder whether they may end up being the next ones Mr. Trump vanquishes.
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