Donald Trump invited his aides into his sandbox so they could hatch one of the pettiest and most shortsighted schoolyard responses possible to Nancy Pelosi’s postponement of Trump’s State of the Union address. Less than an hour before Speaker Nancy Pelosi was set to leave for an overseas trip into a combat zone, Trump effectively canceled the trip by sending her a letter that publicly disclosed details of her trip and informing her it had been officially postponed. Trump noted her time would be better spent “here in Washington negotiating with me” and in a final fit of pique added, “if you would like to make your journey by flying commercial, that would certainly be your prerogative.”
Yeah, no one flies commercial into a combat zone, not to mention the person third in line to the U.S. presidency.
It’s hard to know where to start with how asinine this letter is, but let’s begin with killing the notion that this was somehow the strategic equivalent of Pelosi postponing the State of the Union address during the shutdown. It was not. First of all, Pelosi took something away from Trump that he can’t live without: the spotlight. Along with that stick, she extended a carrot: once the government was open again, the SOTU would proceed and he would get that spotlight back.
Trump’s move, on the other hand, was fueled by sheer spite. Pelosi was leading a congressional delegation (CODEL) on a trip to meet with top NATO commanders in Brussels and reassure them of U.S. commitment to the alliance, and then visit with U.S. troops in Afghanistan as the Trump administration ponders a major drawdown there. These aren’t things Pelosi actually craves, they’re simply part of her job description. Pelosi’s ego hasn’t been bruised and therefore the stunt gave her no extra incentive to negotiate with Trump. Then there are the national security risks of exposing the travel details of a CODEL to the world. In other words, Pelosi made a strategic play aimed at accomplishing her goal of ending the shutdown; Trump responded with strategerie that accomplished nothing other than making him look like a fool. Nailed it!
UPDATE: “Here’s a rundown of the chaos that ensued following Trump canceling the CODEL. A bus drove laps around the Capitol grounds, members are furious, Graham was heard shouting…”
In a New York Times article Tuesday, Trump was quoted as telling his aides about the shutdown battle, “We’re getting crushed!” At least he knows it. Then he went on to wonder, “Why can’t we get a deal?” Again, where to start?
He can’t get a deal because he staked out an unsustainable position on a policy that doesn’t garner popular support and every single poll that emerges reinforces that. He misplayed this from Day One and now he has zero leverage to fix it as his approval ratings keep eroding. Trump could have spent the last 24 hours since making that acknowledgement calling key senators on Capitol Hill to build support for a way out of this mess. Instead:
WH officials, including Mulvaney, began discussing canceling Pelosi’s trip this a.m., two people said. They felt caught off guard by her letter and POTUS has been frustrated by coverage, asking why it looked like Dems had upper hand. Aides agreed this was the perfect response.
— Kaitlan Collins (@kaitlancollins) January 17, 2019
Perfect. That pretty much says it all about the geniuses in the White House. With any luck, they can pull down Trump’s approval ratings even further: 30 percent or less, please. Oh c’mon, you know you can do it. Now get back in that sandbox!