The Reality Television Presidency

[ Posted Wednesday, December 12th, 2018 – 18:24 UTC ]

And so, the metaphor becomes reality. Or reality television, at any rate.

President Donald Trump sat down with incoming Democratic congressional leaders Nancy Pelosi and Chuck Schumer yesterday, and he kept the cameras rolling to capture the first time the three had met in over a year's time. What ensued was nothing short of The Apprentice: Oval Office. The only real difference being that Trump is now playing the role of the apprentice, still getting up to speed after two years on the job. Pelosi and Schumer, or as Trump likes to call them, "Chuck and Nancy," spent a little over 15 minutes schooling the president on: the outcome of the midterm elections, how Congress works, the legislative process, border security, and (as a bonus) what is true and what is not. Reality television at its finest!

Perhaps the most extraordinary thing about the meeting was Pelosi repeatedly making the attempt at convincing Trump that it would be better for all concerned -- but mostly for Trump himself -- if the cameras left, so she wouldn't have to call the president a liar to his face with the whole world watching. Trump refused to do so, sneering at Pelosi that he was merely being "transparent." So Pelosi essentially shrugged her shoulders and smacked him down with the cameras rolling. By doing so in the most effective way possible, she may have cemented her bid to regain the speakership of the House of Representatives. Who can now argue on the left that Pelosi is "too old" or insufficiently feisty when it comes time to confront Trump? That argument is no longer operative, obviously.

Putting the political fallout from the meeting aside for the moment, though, one of the most interesting aspects of the meeting was a throwaway line in the coverage afterwards. This is the first time Pelosi and Schumer have met directly with the president in over a year. Think about that for a moment, because it says a lot. Trump has spent the past year -- ever since his tax cut bill passed, roughly -- getting close to nothing done in Congress. If any big contentious issue had been successfully tackled, at the very least Chuck Schumer's presence would have been required. Pelosi's presence would likely also have been necessary, given the Tea Party naysayers in the House Republican caucus. But the three have not met for over a year's time.

What this also means is that for that entire year, Trump has heard nothing but the echo chamber of his own making. Petty White House staff squabbles aside, and ignoring for the moment the looming cloud of the Mueller investigation, Trump has spent the past year basking in a bunch of yes-men and yes-women telling him that everything he does is wonderful. He hasn't heard any voices contradicting this fantasy, and he spent the latter half of that year travelling the country so that adoring crowds could give him even more ego food out on the campaign trail. So having someone directly contradict his version of reality was in fact long overdue.

Trump will not be able to avoid this any longer, at least for the next two years. He will not be able to continue ignoring Pelosi and Schumer, because they will be necessary to get anything done. So what we all just witnessed may become a regular occurrence, although perhaps in future the cameras won't be allowed to roll for quite so long.

Then again, maybe not. Trump, after all, lives in his own reality, and it's quite possible he may have convinced himself that he can benefit politically from allowing everyone to see Pelosi and Schumer kick him around like a soccer ball. After all, Trump obviously thought showing yesterday's brouhaha on live television was a good idea, reportedly because he likes "being seen as being in control of a meeting." But perhaps not -- it was also reported that Trump exited the Oval Office after the meeting and threw a folder of briefing papers across the room in anger. So maybe he's actually aware of how bad for him the meeting really looked, to most people. If this is true, the cameras won't be present at the next such meeting.

Of course, Trump supporters will probably see all of this through their own rosy-colored lenses. They'll insist that Trump actually won the showdown, at least for the next week or so. Then the reality will sink in. Trump now owns any shutdown that happens, and he promised to everyone that he would not even attempt to blame Schumer for it. Of course, Trumpian promises are almost made to be broken, but that clip will definitely be kept handy should he go back on his word.

Shutdown or not, though, what will be most important is the endgame. No matter how much bluster Trump attempts, the math in Congress remains the same. Trump has to get at least nine Democratic votes in the Senate (he kept insisting on ten, but the real number is assumably nine, if all the Republicans vote as a bloc) to pass any sort of budget or continuing resolution. And Senate Democrats are pretty much universally dead-set against giving Trump any money for his beloved border wall. For the past two years, they have leveraged this stance time and time again into denying Trump his funding. This will likely be the outcome this time around as well, especially seeing as how Trump has already personally taken the blame for any shutdown. Democrats will again offer what they've successfully offered for the past two years -- increased border security money and maintenance money for fences that already exist, but no new money for Trump's wall. Not a thin dime. In the end, Trump will likely be forced to cave and accept this, as he has already repeatedly done.

His base is not going to like this outcome, to put it mildly. In fact, many have speculated that Trump already knows he's going to lose this showdown, and that's why he televised the fracas yesterday -- so he can later point to it and tell his followers: "I fought as hard as I could, but the Democrats refused to budge." Whether this works or not remains to be seen, but with Pelosi in charge of the House for the next two years, what it really means is that Trump will have to campaign in 2020 on the fact that his precious wall has not, in fact, actually been built.

Pelosi and Schumer came out of the meeting smelling like roses, however. Seen politically, this was a big boost to both of them heading into the next Congress. Democrats have been itching to see someone rub Trump's face in some reality, and both Pelosi and Schumer did a more-than-adequate job of this yesterday. Democrats also have been itching to see someone stand up to Trump's bullying, and again, both Pelosi and Schumer scored very high marks on this metric as well. As previously mentioned, this one meeting may have all but guaranteed Pelosi a successful vote for the speakership next month. The meeting, in this regard, was nothing short of a giant political Christmas gift from Trump to the two of them, tied up in a bow.

There was only one thing missing from the meeting, from my point of view. It can be summed up in one word, in fact: Mexico. The news media actually filled in this gap in their coverage, reminding viewers that Trump had spent his entire campaign promising that Mexico would pay for the wall and that ever since he's become president Trump has completely ignored this promise. Neither Pelosi nor Schumer ever once uttered the word, I believe (I'd have to check the transcript to verify that), leaving mention of Mexico conspicuous in its absence.

One further dot that Pelosi, Schumer, and the media failed to connect (at least, the media I've seen since) was an even more pointed criticism of Trump asking American taxpayers to foot the bill for his wall. I've been pushing this idea for a few weeks now, and Pelosi and Schumer really need to add it to their quiver of rhetorical arrows. Because when it became obvious that the Mexican government was simply not going to just write out a check for the price of Trump's wall, he changed his story significantly. Trump pivoted to: "Mexico will pay one way or another -- we'll strike such a great trade deal with them that they'll wind up paying for the wall indirectly." That was always an aspirational goal for Trump (since such a deal was still in the future), although he soon stopped using this talking point (when everyone else stopped asking him about it, to spread the blame around a bit).

But it's high time to remind him of it, and make him eat those particular words. I really would have loved to hear Nancy Pelosi or Chuck Schumer hit Trump with some version of the following yesterday:

"Mr. President, you promised the American public for over a year that Mexico was going to pay for your wall. It was a chant at your campaign rallies, remember? You'd say: 'Who is going to pay for the wall?' and your supporters would scream back: 'Mexico!' Then when you became president, you changed your tune and said Mexico would wind up paying for the wall through a trade deal. Well, you just signed a trade deal with Canada and Mexico. So where is the money from Mexico to pay for the wall? Why are you now asking the American taxpayers to foot this bill, when you promised that Mexico would be paying for your wall either directly or indirectly through a trade agreement? What happened to all those promises, sir?"

Perhaps Pelosi and Schumer felt that they had humiliated Trump enough for one day, and that they didn't want to rub salt in his wounds quite so blatantly. But next time around they shouldn't hold back. Next time around, this should be at the top of their list of questions to press Trump on.

After all, if we're going to conduct American government for the next two years in the reality television format, then Democrats are going to have to learn that no holds should be barred. Points are scored for dramatic verbal takedowns. They've already essentially called the president a liar to his face, but they need to do so again directly on the Mexico issue -- because this was such a fundamental part of his campaign. Now that he's signed a trade deal, Trump no longer can use "they'll pay for it in other ways in future trade deals" as an excuse. That ship has now sailed. Democrats need to hammer this point home, because it so beautifully undermines Trump's key issue. This message needs to be crystal clear:

Trump lied to the voters. He lied that Mexico would pay for the wall, and then he lied that he'd get the money in a trade deal. Now he's trying to stick everyone with the bill. That is not what he promised you, and everyone should remember this basic fact during his re-election campaign. Mexico's never going to pay for that wall. If Trump has his way, you are going to pay for it. Democrats are going to fight hard to see that that never happens, though, because we are going to hold Trump to that promise. If he gets tens of billions of dollars from Mexico earmarked for a wall, then we will stand back and let him build it. But we are not going to let him stick American taxpayers with the bill, period.

-- Chris Weigant


Follow Chris on Twitter: @ChrisWeigant


16 Comments on “The Reality Television Presidency”

  1. [1] 
    nypoet22 wrote:

    i must admit i didn't view footage of the meeting, though reports i've read have suggested it was more of a draw. for donald, it's sort of an all press is good press kind of thing. i'd imagine he doesn't really care if the cameras make him look good or bad, as long as they get his name right.


  2. [2] 
    Paula wrote:

    Individual-1's saying "I was going to call it the Pelosi Shutdown" after she referred to it as the "Trump Shutdown" followed by his yelling he'd love a shutdown and would do it if he doesn't get his wall pretty much killed the GOP effort to preemptively blame the Dems.

    DT ambushing Chuck and Nancy with a televised meeting - they were not informed it would be televised - also backfired, I think, since our dynamic duo rose to the occasion with aplomb.

    Meanwhile Pence sat like a bump on a log, sometimes closing his eyes as though he was in prayer.

    Separately I'm starting to see references out there to the notion of Individual-1 resigning in exchange for a plea deal. (Here's one:

    That has always been my prediction for the eventual ending of his presidency. He's an egotistical buffoon but I think he also has strong instinct for self-preservation and I think in the end he'll have one card left to play: his ability to incite violence. I've always thought the powers-that-be in D.C. would prefer him to step down both to avoid the potential political hazards of impeachment and to avoid the "uprising" Tiny threatens to unleash. (I think the "uprising" would be pitiful in scope & scale, but that doesn't mean it would be nonexistent.) If Mueller can deliver the goods I think Tiny will figure out he's better off going quietly in exchange for some form of leniency.

  3. [3] 
    TheStig wrote:


    Seriously, watch the clips on Youtube. Trump was schooled. The game has changed. As LBJ would have put it, The Democrats have Trump's Pecker in their pocket....figuratively and literally what with the National Enquirer striking a deal with the Feds. That has got to hurt Donny Two Scoop's feelings. It's like getting a lump of clean coal in your Christmas stocking....instead of the autocracy you wished for.

  4. [4] 
    C. R. Stucki wrote:

    Off topic but ON current events - Question(s) of the day, 1), Did Trump pay off, directly or indirectly, hookers to keep quiet about his sexual exploits?? 2) Does the bear shit in the forest?? 3), Is water wet??

  5. [5] 
    nypoet22 wrote:

    Also up for debate, is the Pope catholic? But most germane, can it be proven that said actions constitute high crimes and misdemeanors, or are they now just politics as usual?
    "In France you could run on that platform" -Woody Allen

  6. [6] 
    Paula wrote:

    More good times:

    Donald Trump was the third person in the room in August 2015 when his lawyer Michael Cohen and National Enquirer publisher David Pecker discussed ways Pecker could help counter negative stories about Trump's relationships with women, NBC News has confirmed.

  7. [7] 
    Paula wrote:

    Then this:

    Trump Inauguration Spending Under Criminal Investigation by Federal Prosecutors
    Probe looking into whether committee misspent funds and top donors gave money in exchange for access to the administration.

    Paywall link:

  8. [8] 
    Chris Weigant wrote:

    OK, I have to say I didn't see this one coming:

    Trump is forcing this conversation! Now it is impossible (or political malpractice) for Dems to not make it a prominent talking point. Nobody has a clue what Trump means in his tweet, because, of course, Mexico isn't paying for the wall.

    It's time for Democrats to point it out. Repeatedly.


  9. [9] 
    Kick wrote:


    Poor Comrade Benedict Donald Treasonous Trump. Turns out "The Don" is a profligate con and the head of a crime family. Who knew? ;)

    Is it not getting easier and easier to see why Trump started screaming "fake news, fake news" in January 2017? When you've committed as many crimes as Trump & Company, the only remaining move is to convince a bunch of gullible minions that what they're seeing and hearing is not real. #Pathetic

  10. [10] 
    Paula wrote:

    [10] Kick: Yep!

  11. [11] 
    neilm wrote:

    Jared is being forced into the CoS role because nobody else wants it. Good idea - he already has a legal team working to keep him out of jail already, so he is better prepared than any other candidate who'd have to try to find lawyers in a currently very competitive DC market.

  12. [12] 
    Paula wrote:

    [12] My vision of Individual-1 wandering around the WH alone except for the help is getting closer and closer. I figured it would be either Jared or Ivanka for CoS when no one else in America would take the job -- looks like Jared got the short straw...

  13. [13] 
    nypoet22 wrote:

    pardon, i got the quote slightly wrong:

    "You have no values. With you it's all nihilism, cynicism, sarcasm, and orgasm.
    Hey, in France I could run for office with that slogan, and win!"
    ~woody allen, deconstructing harry

  14. [14] 
    James T Canuck wrote:

    Personally, I thought Pelosi was the only man in that room. Chuckles isn't built for this trench-politics, Pence was communing with his deity and Trump, as usual, shrugged off obvious slights... The best freeze-frame was Kelly with that " I won't fucking miss this shit-show" look as it cabaret came to a close.


  15. [15] 
    ListenWhenYouHear wrote:

    I thought Pence was worried that Trump was gonna force him to express how grateful he is to be working under glorious leader again, so he was trying to figure out what he could praise Trump for that wouldn’t trip his gag reflex or make him burst into laughter!

  16. [16] 
    Chris Weigant wrote:

    James T Canuck -

    Funniest comment about the meeting I've heard so far was that the Pence-bot "powered down to save energy".



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