After ripping through the GOP’s “deepest bench” of presidential candidates in decades, snagging the presidency with a little help from his Russian friends, and cowing congressional Republicans into submission, Donald Trump and his aides have found themselves continually baffled by the woman staring them down from the other end of Pennsylvania Avenue.
Initially, Trump was convinced Nancy Pelosi would give him border funding just as soon as she wrapped up the Speaker’s gavel. Apparently, he missed her subtle signal in their initial West Wing showdown after Trump suggested she was bargaining from a weakened position. “Please don’t characterize the strength that I bring to this meeting as the leader of the House Democrats,” she shot back. It was basically Oval Office speak for, “Back off, bitch.”
Trump not only lost the battle that day, but he also ceded the entire war by claiming full and pride-filled credit for any shutdown that might ensue.
Several weeks later, Trump and his crackerjack team decided Pelosi was bluffing again when she respectfully sent him a letter seeking to postpone the State of the Union until the shutdown ended. Despite the fact that Pelosi was constitutionally empowered to deny Trump access to the People’s Chamber, Trump decided to press his disadvantage, sending her a letter on Wednesday asserting he would give the speech anyway. Mere hours later, Pelosi swatted down Trump’s advance like a pesky mosquito, this time pledging to deny him access to the venue.
Backed into yet another corner of his own making, Trump threw a Twitter tantrum before finally admitting late Wednesday night that it was Pelosi’s “prerogative” to delay the speech. Yet again, the White House was reportedly “caught off guard” by how quickly Pelosi bested them.
Ever since the shutdown began, Trump and his aides have repeatedly and almost laughably tried to regain the advantage. Somehow, they never clued into the fact the game was over on Day One when Trump first declared: “I am proud to shut down the government.” Last weekend, Trump announced a unilateral “deal” that was supposed to box in Democrats by making concessions on Dreamers in exchange for border wall money. But instead of doing a smart deal, they did it dumb, loading it up with extremist measures on DACA and asylum that made it impossible for Democrats to embrace. It was just about the most pathetic gambit possible—unless they were hoping to look pathetic, in which case it was a smashing success.
White House spokespeople have also spent the past several weeks trying to convince the nation that it was the Democrats who “refuse to negotiate.” Seriously, these people have the strategic instincts of roadkill. It was Trump who not only walked out of the last negotiation with Pelosi and Sen. Chuck Schumer, but also memorably rage tweeted “bye-bye” at them after they left.
And so on Friday, this destructive shutdown finally ended where everyone but the White House knew it would: with Trump’s total capitulation on border wall funding in order to reopen the government. With Trump’s approvals sagging to their lowest levels in a year and Senate Republicans actually backbiting each other over their predicament, the White House finally realized Trump had nowhere to go but down. Better late than never, but sure could have been sooner.
No one is left to wonder if they’re even close to realizing that Pelosi is going to grind them into dust over the next couple of years. Because everyone already does.
A former White House official texts me, unsolicited: “Trump looks pathetic…he just ceded his presidency to Nancy Pelosi.”
— Jonathan Swan (@jonathanvswan) January 25, 2019