The US government is set to shut down on December 8 unless Congress can pass a bill – and President Donald Trump can sign it – to fund the government beyond that date.
Which is why it made perfect sense that Trump was scheduled to meet with the four top congressional leaders – two Democrats, two Republicans – on Tuesday. A government shutdown is in no one’s political interests – especially Trump’s Republican Party given that they hold total control over both ends of Pennsylvania Avenue.
That was the plan until Trump sent this tweet just after 9 a.m. ET on Tuesday: “Meeting with ‘Chuck and Nancy’ today about keeping government open and working. Problem is they want illegal immigrants flooding into our Country unchecked, are weak on Crime and want to substantially RAISE Taxes. I don’t see a deal!”
That last sentence didn’t sit well with Democrats. Just before noon, Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer of New York and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi of California released a statement announcing that they wouldn’t attend the planned White House meeting.
“Given that the President doesn’t see a deal between Democrats and the White House, we believe the best path forward is to continue negotiating with our Republican counterparts in Congress instead,” the duo said, in part.
In response to the Democrats’ cancellation, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky and Speaker Paul Ryan of Wisconsin put out a statement of their own, blaming Democrats for “putting government operations, particularly resources for our men and women on the battlefield, at great risk by pulling these antics.”
Let me remind you: If nothing in the way of government funding passes between now and December 8 – that’s exactly 10 days from now – the government will shut down. And let me also remind you: A government shutdown – given historical midterm trends for the President’s party, the lack of legislative accomplishments for the Republican Congress and Trump’s middling approval numbers – would almost certainly be a political catastrophe for Republicans.
Trump seems blissfully unaware of that history. “Well, if [a shutdown] happens, I would absolutely blame the Democrats,” he said Tuesday afternoon. “If it happens, it’s going to be over illegals pouring into the country, crime pouring into the country, no border wall – which everybody wants.”
What explains Trump’s decision to provoke Pelosi and Schumer in advance of the meeting? Some of Trump’s allies will insist that he is playing a strategic game that people like me are just too dumb to see. That by forcing Democrats to walk away from the table, Trump will improve his party’s leverage. Or something.
But the simpler explanation is that Trump is playing – and has always been playing – zero-dimensional chess. There is no grand strategy. There is no broad blueprint. There is just impulse, reaction and then reaction to the reaction.
Put more simply: Trump just says stuff. Like calling Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren “Pocahontas” at an event honoring Native American code talkers for their service during World War II. Or suggesting to people that maybe, just maybe, the “Access Hollywood” tape is a fake. Or one of a thousand other things Trump has said since being elected president.
The arc of his presidency is that there is no arc. There are just a series of dots on a board. You can try to draw a line in between them all but there’s really no through line other than ego and personal grievance.
That’s it. Remember that Trump declared proudly in the opening passage of his seminal “Art of the Deal” that he liked to sit at his desk every morning with no set plan and no real schedule. As a businessman, Trump liked to let the world come to him and react to it. That’s the exact same philosophy he’s brought to the White House.
There is no long game at work here. There is no game at all. It’s zero-dimensional chess. Which isn’t chess at all.