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Home/Rod Dreher/The Cost Of Trump’s Political Incompetence

The Cost Of Trump’s Political Incompetence

'I am proud to shut down the government for border security, Chuck. I'm not going to blame you for it' (CBS News screenshot)

I don’t know about you, but I cringed when I heard the president, in his on-camera clash with Chuck Schumer and Nancy Pelosi this week, fume like a petulant child, saying that if he doesn’t get what he wants, he’s going to shut down the government. He actually said that it would be his fault if the government shuts down — that he would be willing to own it, and that he would not blame Democrats for it. Seriously, watch the clip. No wonder Mike Pence sat there in a Zen state of shutdown. Trump was handing his opponents a great gift — one that’s going to come up in future Democratic campaign ads.

What he should have done is make the argument — or at least the assertion — that it would be the Democrats’ fault if the government shut down over a failure to reach a funding agreement. He just greatly strengthened the Democrats’ hand in negotiations with Congressional Republicans, because if the government closes, there is no political risk to Democrats over it — Trump having bragged in advance that it would be his fault.

That’s the kind of boastful threat you can make when you have a strong approval rating, and overwhelming popularity for the proposal (funding for the border wall) that stands to shut down the government. Trump’s approval rating is at only 42 percent, and, as it turns out, 57 percent of voters overall want Trump to compromise on the border wall to avoid a government shutdown. True, two-thirds of Republicans want Trump to stand firm on the wall, even if it means the government shuts down. But Trump will be judged by all voters, not just Republican ones.

And even if you are one of the Republicans who wants him to stand firm on the wall, you absolutely positively don’t want him to take responsibility for the government shutdown before it has even happened — if ever! You want him to blame the Democrats. Trump, being an incompetent braggart, blew that elementary task.

Which brings us to a powerful new piece for former TAC executive editor Bob Merry, who says Trump has failed and will continue to fail his voters. Excerpt:

This political paradox stems from the seeming inevitability of this president leaving his constituency high and dry through political incompetence, behavioral incontinence, an inability to maintain a focus on anything, and an incapacity to think or act coherently. His presidency so far has been characterized by political failure, and it’s going to get worse before the end of his term, by which point the voters will have expelled him from the White House.

That will be bad news for those who voted for Trump in 2016. They correctly saw in him an unconventional politician willing to talk about national problems that the country’s ruling classes wanted to ignore or finesse. Trump put forth a distinct political outlook that couldn’t be found anywhere else within either party (although Bernie Sanders also offered an unconventional narrative of the American plight).

Trump’s great political feat was that he opened up a new fault line in politics: the elites of the coasts versus the heartland masses; the globalist upper crust versus the nationalist middle; anti-working class liberalism versus conservative populism. In truth, this fault line was already there, roiling American politics just beneath the surface. But Trump had the instincts to see what just about everyone else missed—that these subterranean angers could be pulled up and harnessed into an electoral coalition that could win the White House.

But, as Merry explains, Trump couldn’t do much with what he won for himself — and after Trump is thrown out, the Democrats — going more socialist, and doubling down on identity politics — are going to undo what good things he has managed to accomplish. Read the whole thing.

Also, check out John Podhoretz’s piece about bad news headed the GOP’s way in 2020 — this, based on its 2018 election performance. Excerpt:

Midterms usually feature a drastically smaller electorate than presidential elections. Eighty-three million people voted in the 2014 midterms, compared to the 136 million who voted in 2016.

But in 2018, 118 million Americans voted. Nationally, Democrats thumped Republicans by 9 points, the most lopsided margin in a midterm in modern history. Approximately 62 million people voted Democratic last month. Hillary Clinton garnered 65.8 million ballots in 2016.

In other words, Democrats achieved midterm turnout numbers only a few percentage points lower than the presidential number in 2016 — in an election widely viewed as a referendum on Trump.

And Trump wasn’t on the ballot in 2018! He will be in 2020, and everybody who voted against him by proxy in 2018 will be there again to vote against him without the middleman. And a lot more will be joining them besides.

Worse, says JPod, Democrats trounced Republicans this year in states that put Trump over the top versus Hillary in 2016.

Unlike JPod, Bob Merry is not and never was a Never Trumper. He was a conservative populist sort who was hopeful that Trump could change things for the better. Turns out that character really is destiny.

After Trump goes, things are going to get real, and real fast, for social and religious conservatives. If he loses in 2020, expect a Democratic administration that is going to push hard to punish religious conservatives, who, in Democrats’ minds, are the most deplorable of the Deplorables. We have to hope that in the next two years, Trump and the GOP Senate will approve enough judges sympathetic to religious liberty to carve out some room for us in the face of a hostile government and culture. I believe that the Trump years — whether they end in 2020 or, as seems unlikely, in 2024 — will be seen by social and religious conservatives as having been about buying time to prepare for hard times. As I say inThe Benedict Option: don’t waste time — prepare.

Trump might have been the best option on the table in 2016, but as Bob Merry makes clear, his failures have set his supporters up for a mighty fall after he’s gone.

UPDATE:This just in from the Washington Post:

In the wake of Trump’s contentious Oval Office meeting Tuesday with House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.), Republicans found themselves no closer to bridging the gap between Trump’s demand for $5 billion for his border wall in 2019 and the $1.3 billion Democrats are willing to spend on border fencing.

Instead, Republicans confronted a dilemma of Trump’s own making after he flipped the script by telling Pelosi and Schumer he’d be “proud to shut down the government for border security.”

The president’s off-the-cuff declaration in the televised Oval Office confab left talks at a virtual standstill and deprived Republicans of their ability to blame Democrats for a partial shutdown that could come at midnight Dec. 21, just before Christmas.

Republican lawmakers and members of Trump’s own administration have been talking for weeks about a “Schumer Shutdown” as they maneuvered to pin the blame on Democrats if a partial shutdown occurs. Democrats were delighted that Trump had taken ownership of a shutdown, and Republicans were forced to acknowledge that the president’s comments undermined their own efforts.

“I’m on the record saying numerous times I think a shutdown is a fool’s errand. Every shutdown we’ve been in, nobody wins. So I’m very discouraged by that,” said Sen. Shelley Moore Capito (R-W.Va.).

“I think he wants to reach an agreement, and I think he’ll realize — as he thinks about it — that a shutdown is really not going to gain anything for his position and, in a lot of ways, is more damaging to the American people,” Capito added.

That’s our Trumpy Bear!

 

about the author

Rod Dreher is a senior editor at The American Conservative. A veteran of three decades of magazine and newspaper journalism, he has also written three New York Times bestsellers—Live Not By Lies, The Benedict Option, and The Little Way of Ruthie Lemingas well as Crunchy Cons and How Dante Can Save Your Life. Dreher lives in Baton Rouge, La.

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