Debt ceiling deal reveals the impotence of Donald Trump's MAGA movement

I have bad news for folks who invested in bright red “Make America Great Again” hats and devoted years of their lives to what former President Donald Trump routinely callsthe greatest political movement in the history of our country.”

The MAGA movement, with each passing day, appears smaller and more impotent. It’s loud but ineffective, capable of creating chaos but incapable of success.

The recent debt ceiling deal reached between President Joe Biden and Republican House Speaker Kevin McCarthy perfectly illustrates MAGA’s all-holler/no-action status.

MAGA's debt ceiling red line was easily crossed by Kevin McCarthy

This was the none-shall-pass moment for far-right Republicans in Congress, a chance to use the threat of economic disaster that would accompany a default to undo all the things Big Bad Biden has accomplished as president, to slash spending to the bone and poke holes in the safety net.

“I say to the Republicans out there – congressmen, senators – if they don’t give you massive cuts, you’re going to have to do a default," Trump said during a CNN town hall.

Former President Donald Trump speaks on June 01, 2023 in Grimes, Iowa.

Republican Rep. Kevin Hern of Oklahoma, chair of the Republican Study Committee told Axios that he agreed with Trump. And Rep. Ralph Norman of South Carolina said: “Either they agree to cuts, which are modest, or they take responsibility for whatever happens.”

The Republican Party's debt ceiling threats met up with reality

McCarthy caved to MAGA demands and initially produced a debt ceiling bill that would have gutted much of what Biden accomplished in his first two years. It was a wholly unreasonable proposal, aimed at appeasing the extremes of McCarthy's own party.

But the final deal the speaker hammered out with Biden was nothing close to what MAGA lawmakers wanted.

Trump unleashes DeSantis deepfake: GOP should support a grownup for president.

Game on. With DeSantis making it official on Twitter, the fight against Trump can begin.

The original bill sought a 10-year cap on spending, with draconian cuts to non-Defense spending. The final deal puts minor spending restraints in place for the next two years. They wanted strict (and unnecessary) work requirements on food stamps recipients and people on Medicaid. Medicaid went untouched, and the dynamics of the change in work requirements for Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program recipients, according to the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office, will actually increase government spending on food stamps.

The original bill cut the $80 billion allotted to the IRS for one decade, part of Biden’s Inflation Reduction Act. Only $10 billion per year for two years was cut in the final deal.

The debt ceiling deal is 'ridiculous' and 'a bunch of fake news'

Notable MAGA-enthused folks were disgusted with the agreement.

Before the vote, Rep. Lauren Boebert of Colorado said the bill is “a bunch of fake news and fake talking points that will do nothing to rein in out-of-control federal spending.” Rep. Andy Biggs of Arizona called it a “ridiculous, ephemeral deal” that is “one of the biggest abominations” he has seen.

Texas Rep. Chip Roy, a member of the MAGA-aligned Freedom Caucus, said: “The Republican conference right now has been torn asunder. ... Not one Republican should vote for this deal – not one.”

In the House, 149 Republicans voted in favor of the deal, 68% of the chamber’s GOP members.


What happened? Republicans who aren't wholly aligned with Trump and his MAGA movement did their jobs and voted for a bill that got them some of what they wanted and saved the global economy from collapse.

The MAGA outcry over the debt ceiling deal was noisy, as usual

Trump loyalist Steve Bannon said on his podcast that Democratic House Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries came out of the debt ceiling deal as “the man.” Bannon dubbed Jeffries the real majority leader and used a rather derogatory word for McCarthy.

Steve Bannon during the Conservative Political Action Conference, CPAC 2023, at the Gaylord National Resort & Convention Center on March 3, 2023.

But again, MAGA is all talk. It won’t be able to kick McCarthy out as House speaker. Just as it wasn't able to stop Biden from largely winning the debt ceiling fight. Just as it wasn't able to help Republicans achieve a “red wave” in the midterm elections, or help Trump win in the 2020 presidential election.

Even Texas Republicans ignored a threat from Trump

Speaking of the former president, when Texas Republicans decided to impeach the state’s attorney general, hardcore Trump-backer Ken Paxton, Trump rushed to Paxton’s defense and threatened any state Republicans who dare cross him: “Hopefully Republicans in the Texas House will agree that this is a very unfair process that should not be allowed to happen or proceed – I will fight you if it does.”

Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton speaks at a news conference at the Price Daniel State Office Building on Friday May 26, 2023.

Not long after that threat, the Republican-controlled Texas House voted overwhelmingly – 121 to 23 – to impeach Paxton. Apparently they weren’t intimidated, nor should they have been.

Let's stop treating Trump and MAGA as some all-powerful force

MAGA, as a movement, has more than proved itself to be a paper tiger. A loud one, sure. One that can stir up all kinds of dust and threats and unhinged accusations. But a paper tiger nonetheless.

It’s time Republicans and the rest of us stop being cowed by Trump and his perversely loyal fan base, with their red hats and noisy chants and cult-like attraction to a man who, as they will one day tragically learn, doesn’t care a whit about them.

The power of MAGA is a mirage. That’s why McCarthy hedged his bets and struck a deal with Biden. He knew he could beat back Trump’s toadies.

And that’s exactly what he did.

Follow USA TODAY columnist Rex Huppke on Twitter @RexHuppke and Facebook

More from Rex Huppke:

Disney nixes $1 billion Florida development, latest casualty in DeSantis' 'war on woke'

Joe Biden is definitely going to prison! As soon as the GOP finds its missing informant.

Would today's GOP try to ban Mister Rogers for being woke? Probably.

You can read diverse opinions from our Board of Contributors and other writers on the Opinion front page, on Twitter @usatodayopinion and in our daily Opinion newsletter. To respond to a column, submit a comment to

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Biden gets win over Trump's MAGA movement with debt ceiling deal