Trump has no ability to think strategically

Photo by nikko macaspac on Unsplash

Another day, another change of positions in the Trump administration. With the government facing an imminent shutdown due to the Republican Congress’s inability to pass a budget, Trump decided on Monday to paint a bright red line — just what he taunted Obama for foolishly doing. But in Trump’s case, the bright line was whether he would allow the government to keep operating if he didn’t get his big, beautiful wall.

In a televised meeting with the Democratic leaders Nancy Pelosi (CA) of the House and Chuck Schumer (NY) of the Senate, he said he would take full responsibility for shutting down the government. He said he would be proud to stand on principle for his wall.

Of course we’re forgetting the fact that Trump promised Mexico would pay for it, and that the big beautiful wall he promised has turned into a fence of steel slats, prompting ridicule in the right. Despite all this, Trump was willing to hold the government hostage until he got us to pay for his wall. And right before Christmas too. Chuck Schumer called his behavior a “temper tantrum.”

The White House dispatched Stephen Miller to send the message loudly and clearly that Trump would sign no continuing resolution (CR) to keep the government open unless $5 billion in funding was included for his wall. Trump’s hardcore supporters may have cheered, but Pelosi, for her part, schooled Trump on politics during their live broadcast negotiating session. She knew, of course, that she held the winning hand, since polls say voters do not believe the wall is a priority by a 69–28 margin. In other words, nobody supports this position except for Trump’s hardest of hardcore MAGAers.

The Republicans in Congress are not stupid, many of them have far more political experience than Trump. As a result, they could see how Trump had painted them into a corner. History has shown that the party who gets blamed for a shutdown is seriously damaged politically. Think of when President Clinton embarrassed Republican Speaker Newt Gingrich in the 1990s. With the GOP still controlling all the levers of government, and Trump’s assuming responsibility in the television appearance, there was nowhere for Republicans to hide. Of course any halfway competent politician could have (and did) see this trap, but Trump walked enthusiastically into it.

Next, when he heard from his Congressional allies how he had screwed over his own party, Trump started backing away from that hard position, first in a tweet, then through a press announcement by Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee-Sanders. At the time, I tweeted “I wonder how the MAGA true believers will justify this retreat…”

As I predicted, there was outrage among Trump’s hardcore supporters. Ann Coulter wrote that Trump was “gutless,” and that his is “a joke presidency that scammed the American people.” I hate to agree with Ann Coulter. Nevertheless, not that my insight was so great. Any halfway competent politician could imagine the reaction of Trump’s supporters to this retreat. But Trump didn't see it coming.

So now, with Trump’s promise to sign a CR to keep the government open, the Senate went ahead and passed a “clean” CR, essentially continuing government operations at their current level, at least until the Democrats took over the House and so Republicans might find a way to make them share the blame. Imagine their surprise, then, when Trump again tweeted that he would not sign a CR without full wall funding. Exasperated Republicans now face the likelihood that the government will shut down tomorrow, and that their party will get, deservedly, all the blame. They will have decisively demonstrated that they are incapable of governing.

What could Trump have done to avoid this fiasco? Not laid down the gauntlet as he did. In so doing, he painted himself and his party into a corner. Had he been able to look a little beyond what was right in front of him, he would have seen the risk such a move created for himself and his party. But apparently, Trump is completely incapable of even basic strategic thinking.

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Mike is an Assistant Professor of Management for Legal and Ethical Studies at Oakland U. Mike combines his scholarship with practical experience in politics.

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