Donald Trump and his father Fred dedicated much of their lives united in a singular cause: Creating the illusion that the Dons was an absolute winner in life in every respect. He had the money, the business acumen, the ladies—it was such an all-consuming pursuit of glory that Trump appears to actually believe in the facade they built over decades.
That winning narrative, given a considerable electoral boost by Russia, carried right into Trump’s first term as pr*sident. With an entirely GOP-controlled Congress, Trump faced no opposition, no calling to account, and his victor fantasy was allowed to flourish to some extent, despite the fact that he only logged one legislative win in his first two years of office.
But Trump’s utterly embarrassing defeat this week on his chief campaign promise marked an end to Trump’s delusions of grandeur. Stripped of the endless advantages that his daddy’s money has bought him his entire life and forced to play on a level playing field with an oppositional party led by a woman, Trump is getting eaten alive. And what’s clear from the Washington Post’s reporting of his reactions to getting little more than a pittance for border fencing in the budget deal is that Trump, faced with his own inadequacies, is losing it.
After being briefed on the deal Thursday and realizing what a humiliating failure it represented, Trump threatened to torpedo the entire measure just before voting began on it. Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, who’d already spent the week on the horn with Trump, was called into action once again to shower him with soothing lies that Democrats had actually lost the battle. After logging three “nerve-racking” calls with Trump, McConnell ultimately promised to pledge his support for Trump’s national emergency—something he had repeatedly advised against—in exchange for an assurance Trump would sign the bill. The White House counsel’s office later bolstered McConnell’s effort by promising Trump that signing the legislation wouldn’t preclude him from using his executive powers to get more money.
The game top GOP negotiator, Sen. Richard Shelby, also did his part to keep the wheels from coming off the cart. Shelby neatly framed the money for Trump as a “down payment” on the border wall, and he often chatted up White House aides at social events as negotiations proceeded, telling them it would be a “good deal” and not to “worry about anything.”
White House political aides also nursed Trump along with a new “Finish the wall” slogan emblazoned across signs at his El Paso rally earlier this week—a little piece of make-believe stagecraft to pump Trump up. Even pro-Trump surrogates seemed keenly aware of not upsetting the apple cart. Former White House legislative affairs director Marc Short told the Post that whatever lousy deal congressional negotiators settled on would only help Trump in 2020 because he could use it to run against the establishment. “There’s power in that,” Short argued. “It’s underreported how being able to run against D.C. and Congress as an outsider helped him in 2016, and he can make that case again.” In fact, it’s a laughable admission of failure that Trump, even with the considerable power invested in the nation’s chief executive, couldn’t persuade Congress to give him a better outcome.
But even Democrats held their tongues until the bill was signed. Despite “brimming with confidence” as the negotiations unfolded, they held back from gloating over the finished product, “worried they could provoke Trump into another shutdown,” according to the Post. “Little comments throw him off,” Sen. Chuck Schumer noted.
Just let that sink in. Trump presents such a constant threat to the well-being of the republic that the oppositional party avoided taking victory laps until members were sure Trump had signed on the dotted line.
For their part, Republicans and the White House lawyers cleared the way for Trump to do something that absolutely none of them thought was a winner, politically or legally. And Trump’s political chiefs helped perpetuate the fairy tale that he was already winning on the wall—that vast portions had already been completed and some finishing touches were all that was left to accomplish.
In other words, it took a village to lead the giant man-baby in the Oval Office down a path that wouldn’t inflict immediate harm on the country. And when he finally sealed that deal, he immediately presented lawmakers with their next man-baby-made crisis in the form of a national emergency. Trump isn’t happy about being a loser, and he’s sure as hell going to make the rest of us pay for it.