On Sunday night, President Donald Trump attacked Jeff Flake on Twitter.
“Sen. Jeff Flake(y), who is unelectable in the Great State of Arizona (quit race, anemic polls) was caught (purposely) on ‘mike’ saying bad things about your favorite President. He’ll be a NO on tax cuts because his political career anyway is ‘toast.’”
The Trump tweet came after Flake, the Arizona Republican senator, was caught on a live mic Friday saying that “if we become the party of Roy Moore and Donald Trump, we are toast.”
The Trump insinuation is that Flake’s hot mic moment wasn’t accidental at all, that it was just a way to slam Trump again. (Flake wrote a book in the spring attacking Trump and the GOP who accepted Trump into its ranks.)
But that’s not the key part of Trump’s tweet. The key part is when he concludes Flake will be a “no” on the tax reform package in the Senate because, well, his political career is “toast” – or something.
I submit this as yet another piece of evidence that Trump is playing zero-dimensional chess.
What do I mean? Simply this: When Trump won the White House – against all odds – the working assumption was that he had executed a plan so brilliant and so complex that only he (and the few advisers he let in on the plan) could see it. He was playing three-dimensional chess while the media, the Clinton campaign and virtually everyone else was still playing checkers.
But as his first year in the White House has progressed, there’s mounting evidence that Trump may not be playing three-dimensional chess. In fact, he might just be playing zero-dimensional chess. As in, the only strategy Trump is pursuing is no strategy at all.
What else could explain Trump’s decision to not only attack Flake but say he is a “no” on the tax cut package when a) Flake isn’t a “no” yet according to his office and b) Trump has virtually no margin for error in the Senate?
Remember that Republicans only control 52 Senate seats. Meaning Trump can only afford to lose two Republicans on any vote. Maine Sen. Susan Collins, who opposed Trump’s attempt to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act earlier this year, seems disinclined to support the tax cut package. Wisconsin Sen. Ron Johnson has said he wouldn’t vote for the plan as currently constructed. Tennessee Sen. Bob Corker has raised concerns about the fact that the tax legislation would add more than $1 trillion to the deficit. It’s not clear whether Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul will be for the final bill either – particularly if the repeal of the health care individual mandate is stripped from it.
You get the idea. There are lots of Republican senators with concerns about the bill.
What Trump needs to do is find ways to convince the Flakes of the Senate to be for the tax legislation. What he is doing is attacking Flake for what he presumes to be a ‘“no” vote. Trump’s tweet is the literal definition of counterproductive.
Trump followed his Flake tweet up with another one on Sunday night. “Republican Senators are working very hard to get Tax Cuts and Tax Reform approved,” he wrote. “Hopefully it will not be long and they do not want to disappoint the American public!”
Threats and attacks aside, Flake’s office told CNN’s Ted Barrett Sunday night that his vote “will have nothing to do with the President.”
Still it’s damn near impossible to see any real strategy in what Trump tweeted.
Why did Trump do it? For the same reason he does most things: Personal pique.
He saw the coverage of Flake’s comments. He was annoyed by a guy taking potshots at him. He already doesn’t like Flake because of the book. And he assumes Flake is purposely attacking him because the Arizona Republican is retiring.
So, Trump attacks. Because when hit, he always always, always punches back. It’s what he does. He doesn’t know – or want to know – any other way of doing things.
Which is ok! That is his choice! And in truth, Trump’s I-do-what-I-want-at-all-times approach to politics, business and, well, life, has worked pretty well for him.
But acting on impulse at all times isn’t a strategy. Which means that not only is Trump not playing three-dimensional chess, he isn’t playing chess at all.