Opinion: What is Trump doing? Being Trump, that’s what

The look on Sen. Chuck Schumer’s face, at Wednesday’s meeting with President Trump, says all you need to know. (AP Photo / Evan Vucci)

There were a lot of shocked folks Wednesday when reports emerged that President Trump had agreed to Democratic leaders Nancy Pelosi and Chuck Schumer’s proposal for a three-month raising of the debt ceiling tied to Hurricane Harvey relief instead of an 18-month proposal backed by Speaker Paul Ryan, Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin, and virtually anyone who a) understands how the legislative process works, and/or b) isn’t trying to humiliate congressional Republicans.

The shocked folks asked questions that went something like this: Why is Trump doing this? Doesn’t he understand this sets up a showdown in December the GOP will be hard-pressed to win? Is he going to start making deals with Democrats instead? What does this mean for the midterms? Does this prove Trump was really a Democrat at heart all along?

I ask none of those questions today, because last year I explained how to think about everything Trump does or says. There’s more at the link, but here’s the brief version of the three rules:

  1. First, last and always, Trump is about himself and only himself.
  2. Trump wakes up every day asking himself, what do I need to say or do to make sure everyone is talking about me by the end of the day?
  3. Trump doesn’t actually believe anything.

If you want to know why Trump would turn on Ryan, McConnell and Mnuchin in favor of Pelosi and Schumer, there’s your Rosetta stone.

Going for a three-month extension rather than an 18-month one makes no sense legislatively or politically, much less ideologically. (Oh, some supposed purists might claim this keeps alive the possibility of a smaller debt ceiling in the long run, but that’s bunk. It’ll go up by at least the same amount, just later. The time to prevent the debt ceiling from going up is before Congress appropriates more money than it has to spend.) But it makes perfect sense as long as you think about it from the standpoint of Trump’s brand.

What has hurt Trump’s brand the most so far during his presidency? Not getting major legislation passed by Republicans, and being continually attacked by Democrats for what he says and does. The former makes him take on water from the unpopular Congress. The latter restricts his popularity to whatever a steadfast group of loyalists is willing to tolerate.

So, what to do? How about showing in one fell swoop that he isn’t bound to those unpopular congressional Republicans and is willing to work with congressional Democrats. Now the part of his base that’s mad at everyone all the time can gloat about dealing a blow to Ryan and McConnell, while the part of the opposition that doesn’t think he’s actually Hitler II has to take a step back and re-evaluate whether it can get anything out of him over the next year or so by playing even a little bit nice.

If you’re Trump, this is a pretty brilliant maneuver.

If you’re Trump.

If you’re not Trump, there isn’t much to recommend this move. It means nothing good for the national debt and arguably bodes ill for it, since any future deal(s) to raise the debt ceiling will require more concessions to the free-spending Democrats. It turns off a certain number of congressional Republicans who might have worked with him to pass such priorities as health care, tax reform and the border wall (speaking of immigration, we haven’t even discussed here his apparent pre-emptive caving on DACA).

Heck, even if you are Trump, this is about as short-sighted as it gets. There’s the aforementioned complication it deals the rest of his agenda. There’s also the extreme likelihood this one acquiescence won’t actually buy him as much goodwill with Democrats as he might hope.

The best scenario for those of us who aren’t Trump is that, he being him, the agreement with Schumer and Pelosi lasts about as long as most of his other pronouncements. And maybe it stiffens Republicans’ spine to send him a clean debt-ceiling increase of 18 months and a clean Harvey relief bill, and dare him to veto either one.

But then, no sooner had I written that last sentence than this came down the tweet-pike:

So … better luck next time?

Reader Comments 0

101 comments
bonoyileh
bonoyileh

"I left my office-j0b and now I am getting paid 92 usd hourly. How? I work over internet! My old work was making me miserable, so I was forced to try something different, 2 years after...I can say my life is changed-completely for the better! Check it out what i do----------------------OPa----------------

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BillOlsen
BillOlsen

He's a toddler. He will take candy from anyone and get right in the van.

TheCentrist
TheCentrist

The real question is what is the SOCON Controlled Congress doing?  After almost nine years, particularly in the House, continuing to do nothing, that's what.

breckenridge
breckenridge

Sept 10 - Former White House strategist Stephen K. Bannon believes the firing of FBI director James B. Comey by President Trump was the biggest mistake “maybe in modern political history.”

He's exaggerating. Yes it was a mistake but the biggest in modern political history? No way. 

cana45
cana45

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SGTGrit
SGTGrit

For those who may be in the path of Hurricane Irma, stay safe.

joyijet
joyijet

 my dads buddy recently bought a fantastic yellow Toyota Camry just by part-time work from a 

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Starik
Starik

Since Trump's cooperation with the Democratic leadership, his negative rating is up (38%) and negative down (just 56%). Is he on to something? 

TheCentrist
TheCentrist

@Starik After January 3, 2011, the approval rating for the US House has been in continuous decline and they blamed Obama for them doing absolutely nothing.  


MotocrossSurvivor
MotocrossSurvivor

It's what got him into the WH.  Imagine a US with Hillary Klintoon already 8 months in office.  Hint to demrats:  If you want to win, you've gotta do a lot better than Hillary Klintoon.

metitotktodd
metitotktodd

@MotocrossSurvivor But Trump cheated to steal the election thanks to the Russians, the FBI, voter suppression, the crooked media and gerrymandering.

TheCentrist
TheCentrist

One thing 45 has done that Obama and HRC couldn't do. That is prove SOCONS are frauds and have committed malfeasance in Congress.

carterjoseph1950
carterjoseph1950

All you have to do is tell the Emperor that his clothes are great, the most beautiful you have ever seen, and he will befriend you, but only as long as you are 'nice' to him. 


Now the Republicans hate him, for today. And if he thinks Pelosi and Schumer are his friends, he is as deluded as I thought.  When the Russia story finally comes home to roost, neither party is going to cover him, and he will be gone, one hopes.


He is America;s kidney stone, and has to be passed. The longer it takes, the more pain it will cause. 

FIGMO2
FIGMO2

Trump possesses two personality traits that have always given me pause...an inferiority complex masked by grandiosity, and an inability to think critically masked by disagreeableness. Combine those two with his tendency to vacillate between political parties/policies, and what did we get?

A RINO.

You are VERY naive, Mr. President, much like Obama was naive.

Voters on BOTH sides have proven THEMSELVES naive.

America is on a slow boat to China. 

TicTacs
TicTacs

"When you are a star, they let you do anything"

_Natalie
_Natalie

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McGarnagle
McGarnagle

So Dems propose the deal and Trump says I'll take it. Like Monty Burns, he had one of his trademark unpredictable change of heart. 


Or as Homer Simpson said: "some people never change, or they quickly change and then quickly change back".

TheCentrist
TheCentrist

The one thing 45 has done is to show that the SOCON obstructionists have played games with the debt ceiling for 8-years.

patriotdog
patriotdog

"It turns off a certain number of congressional Republicans who might have worked with him to pass such priorities as health care, tax reform and the border wall "

Upon what recent history are you basing this statement? Republicans and Dems alike have demonstrated a united opposition to anything the President tries to do.

breckenridge
breckenridge

@Starik @patriotdog 

Yeah, it's not like they're working together.  It the different factions of the GOP that aren't able to agree.

That said, it's only going to get more difficult for Trump to get cooperation from Senate republicans.  He's alienated at least a dozen of them.

_Lillian
_Lillian

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DaltonbywayofBickley
DaltonbywayofBickley

You've got to admit the Republicans have been pretty darn free with spending, too, right?

JohnnyReb
JohnnyReb

In yet another example of crooked Dim tactics, evidence is pointing to Hillary having won New Hampshire due to out of state voters.

More than 5000 voters may not be residents.

6540 registered using out of state license.

Only 1014 have obtained a New Hampshire drivers license although law requires doing so within 60 days.

Another 200 have registered vehicles.

The remainder, who knows but veterans of New Hampshire elections believe the tactic has been used for years. 

metitotktodd
metitotktodd

@JohnnyReb Trump cheated to steal the election thanks to the Russians, the FBI, voter suppression, the crooked media and gerrymandering

TheCentrist
TheCentrist

Isn't it curious that the approval rating of the US House has declined steadily since SOCONS took over the speakership from Pelosi?

PJ25
PJ25

If Trump does nothing more than drain the Republican swamp and destroy the careers of RINOs such as McConnell, Graham, Ryan and Flake, he's done enough for me. 

Visual_Cortex
Visual_Cortex

It'd be nice if we could spend a bit of time examining the foolishness of the whole debt-ceiling political theater and wonder how long it'll take to legislate away this dumb, artificial, utterly ineffective "limiter" and send it to the glue factory where it belongs.

(Yeah, it's been around since 1917. So what.)

breckenridge
breckenridge

@Visual_Cortex 

Yet endless federal deficit spending is not something any American should be comfortable with.

Visual_Cortex
Visual_Cortex

@breckenridge @Visual_Cortex

I suppose so, but given that nobody seems to know what the magic number is for a maximum debt:GDP ratio, it's kind of hard for Americans to view year-to-year spending:revenue as anything more than an abstraction, really.

I imagine most see it as I tend to--something about which politicians gin up outrage when it suits them. I can be persuaded at times to care if it seems we're really being super-irresponsible with this tax cut or that spending.

But mostly I care about how fiscal policy actually affects Americans and their real-life financial security.

breckenridge
breckenridge

@JohnnyReb @Visual_Cortex @breckenridge 


Well at some point Japan and the other foreign entities that finance part of our debt are going to demand a higher rate of return on the bonds that they buy.  That gets very expensive very quickly.

RoadScholar
RoadScholar

There are two repub parties...the freed-dumb caucus and the moderates. The moderates need to take control and work with the moderate dems.

Visual_Cortex
Visual_Cortex

@RoadScholar

The "moderates" have to be somehow convinced that they can risk alienating the noisy, nasty alt-right constituency that threatens to primary-challenge them if they so much as say "good morning" to a Godless, 'Merica-hatin' Demoncrap.

So far I see scant evidence to suggest they're anywhere near that point. If they were, you'd see movement on sensible legislation that really does have bipartisan support. The DREAM Act is the obvious one, but stuff like letting Medicare negotiate prices with Big Pharma or decriminalizing marijuana should be kinda no-brainer-ish as well.

breckenridge
breckenridge

@RoadScholar @Visual_Cortex 

That's not good. The radical activist right may end up taking over the party after all.  The problem there is that they are so whacked and so extreme and their appeal so limited that they're actually going to end up giving the whole shebang to the dems. 

JohnBuck2
JohnBuck2

I cry BS.   None of this is about Trump.  Trump never pretended to be establishment Republican.  Trump is and will always be who Trump is.  But his election gave the Republican leadership a Presidency that would allow the Republican legislators to do the very things they have campaigned to do for years.  The weight of that responsibility scares McConnell and Ryan to death.  Trump's Presidency is simply shining a light on their lack of conviction to do so.  And why are the legislators so upset with the deal?  Did they really intend to address the debt limit issue?  Of course not, they don't want the issue to come up again so near the election.  They want to be able to cave on the issue as far away from an election cycle as possible.  Pure politics.  What the Republican Party has forgotten is the goal should not be to simply have a majority; but to lead based on conservative principles.  These guys want power but have no idea how to lead once they have it.  You'd think Republicans were the minority in both the house and senate. Say what you want about the democrats but they will lead when given the opportunity.  

Visual_Cortex
Visual_Cortex

@_Paisley...

I'm opposed to the death penalty but I might be all right with carving out an exception for spammers.

RoyalDawg
RoyalDawg

Wingfield-


You couldn't be more wrong. Congressional GOP members have done NOTHING to promote the President's agenda in Congress, why shouldn't he use the Dems to accomplish something?


Establishment Republicans fought his election and they have fought his agenda so far- maybe they should get his back, if they want cooperation.


And you, like a typical lemming, demonstrated no deep thought, resorted to insulting Trump, and got it completely wrong.

Starik
Starik

@RoyalDawg Trump made impossible campaign promises. His "agenda" doesn't really exist. 

breckenridge
breckenridge

@RoyalDawg 

Trump is deserving of every insult that gets hurled at him.  He is a failure as president.

Visual_Cortex
Visual_Cortex

@RoyalDawg

why shouldn't he use the Dems to accomplish something?

I'm not sure what this "something" is he accomplished, save the public humiliation of two men who made him mad.