After backing down and accepting the same deal that Democrats offered before he put the nation through a month-long shutdown that damaged the economy, shook faith in the ability of the government to provide basic services, fractured national security, and left hundreds of thousands of federal workers on the job without pay, Donald Trump was back over the weekend … to give up on negotiations. As the Wall Street Journal detailed, Trump is going into the three-week period in which the government is trying to recover from the blow he just delivered fully expecting to generate a fresh national crisis come Valentine’s Day.
Trump set the odds of reaching any arrangement with Congress at “less than 50-50,” setting the stage for either a second act of shutdown or the declaration of the world’s slowest and least-justified “national emergency.” However, no matter what Trump says, support for either action has been considerably reduced. His record-length shutdown and his abrupt backpedal on the brink of growing disaster, has left Trump’s support at record lows in the polls and left Republicans in Washington much less enthusiastic about following him over his next self-erected cliff.
Throughout his nomination and election, Trump said whatever he wanted. Even when he reversed himself, or said things with no basis in reality—which was constantly—it didn’t seem to damage his standing. Republicans who at the beginning distanced themselves from Trump’s most outrageous and harmful statements swiftly quieted. And once he was in office, Trump never faced anything, on any issue, that looked like opposition within the party that he remade in his own image.
With the elections in 2018, Trump was faced, for the very first time, with the prospect of actually having to negotiate. What 2019 has demonstrated definitively is that ghostwriter Tony Schwartz wrote The Art of the Deal. Trump’s personal experience includes only cajoling, bullying, and cheating the rubes who have fueled both his failed real estate schemes and his fake “university.” Actually making a deal, especially with people who understand both the function of government and the system of legislation in infinitely more detail, is simply beyond him.
A bipartisan group of 17 legislators is now meeting, negotiating an actual deal. The goals of that group are going to be, even more than they would have been before the shutdown, finding a reasonable position and avoiding the damage of a repeat shutdown. And since Congress had worked out a compromise with broad support in both chambers before Trump threw a wrench in the nation’s gears, an agreement may not be hard to reach. But that agreement is very, very unlikely to be one that pleases Donald Trump.
The early rumble from the negotiations is that the legislation proposed might include additional funds for border security, but also include restrictions that would force that money to be used for security provisions, such as more technology at ports of entry, that might actually help, rather than the construction of Trump’s ego-monument. Which would not.
The bipartisan panel will emerge from behind closed doors. And they will have a deal. Then Trump will be faced, again, with the prospect of throwing the nation into chaos simply because he did not get 100 percent of what he wanted. Because he won’t get 100 percent of what he wanted.
If Trump were a real negotiator, he would recognize that he is operating from a badly weakened position. He would recognize that, from that position, he should take what he can get, walk away, try to rebuild some semblance of support on Capitol Hill, and come back to fight another day. But the odds of that happening are way less than 50-50. Trump is the boy who always got the new toy he wanted, and the man whose greatest pleasure has come from putting his brand on things. His wall isn’t a policy. It’s filler material for the massive ego-shaped hole in his soul.
Trump’s unwillingness to take something, pretend victory, and move on even has him feuding with some of his Fox friends. If Trump goes over the edge again, he may find that he’s going alone.