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Not Just A River In Egypt

[ Posted Monday, January 28th, 2019 – 17:52 UTC ]

Denial, as the punny saying goes, is not just a river in Egypt. President Donald Trump seems to still be floating down De Nile, however, oblivious to the world of reality around him. This isn't exactly a crisis yet, but it certainly will become a lot more noticeable as time goes by.

In 2010, Barack Obama sheepishly admitted -- in person, while giving a press conference (those were the days, eh?) -- that he had gotten "shellacked" in the midterm elections. Previous to that, George W. Bush admitted to a similar midterm "thumping." Donald Trump experienced the same phenomenon -- losing more House seats to Democrats than had happened since the days of Watergate -- and he proclaimed it was a great victory for him because he had managed to pick up two Senate seats (the only bright spot in an election full of bad news for Republicans nationwide). Great pyramids seemingly floated by in a haze in the background.

Trump's denial riverboat cruise, however, doesn't seem to be limited to denying the clear midterm results. He's also in deep-water denial about three other things that colored his shutdown tantrum, and threaten to color his whole attitude towards dealing with a divided Congress.

First, Trump is in denial that immigration (and, by extension, his border wall) is a great winning issue for him. As far as Trump is concerned, this won bigly for him in 2016, so nothing has changed and it will win just as hugely for him now and forevermore. This ignores the evidence of the midterms, obviously. To Trump: immigration equals winning, period.

The second thing Trump is in denial over is Democrats' frame of mind over immigration. Trump is oblivious to how both Democratic politicians and the Democratic rank-and-file voters feel about immigration, and in particular about his border wall. His misread of this in particular really framed his attitude during the whole shutdown period.

And the third and biggest thing Trump is at least mostly in denial about is Nancy Pelosi's relative strength within her own party. I say "mostly" because to date Trump has not gone into the gutter while facing off with "Nancy, as I like to call her." When faced with strong women who disagreed with his politics previously, Trump's knee-jerk reaction has always been to denigrate them as either ugly, vain, or idiots. Or, when he's in the mood for a trifecta, as ugly, vain idiots. There's plenty of evidence of this to choose from, but so far he's held off on commenting on Pelosi's looks, possible cosmetic surgery, or intelligence. Other conservatives gleefully go there with regularity, but Trump has not. So perhaps he does have a (private) healthy respect for Pelosi's power over him after all, just to be scrupulously fair.

All of this denial is obvious from the leaked reports of what Trump was expecting during the shutdown. These misunderstandings were all dutifully echoed back to him by all his aides (since he's fired all the ones who disagree with him by now), and by the right-wing echo chamber that is Fox News. Trump reportedly was confident of a few things which just weren't so: (1) Pelosi had only a tenuous grasp on power within her caucus, (2) the public was overwhelmingly for the wall, so (3) time was on his side, because the more the citizenry complained to their Congress members, the more the pressure on Democrats to give in would increase and the weaker Pelosi's position would become. This all sounds pretty looney, to be sure, but it explains why Trump was so confident that he could peel off Democratic votes and eventually get his wall money over Pelosi's objections.

Trump still seems to believe this, in fact, even after those two Senate votes that confirmed the opposite was true. He seems to be approaching the three-week negotiating period still convinced that Democrats will suddenly "see the light" and flock to his border wall idea. The aides that the White House dispatched on yesterday's political talk shows all sounded pretty confident that any day now Pelosi's caucus would be splintering and Democrats in Congress would be rushing to back the president's position. Speaking as a metaphorical crocodile on a sandbank watching this dream ship float by, that's pretty laughable.

Trump's denial misses or ignores several reality-based facts. The first is that the more Pelosi dug in, the stronger her political position became. Democrats cheered Pelosi's backbone, and praised her steely resistance. Pelosi emerged from round one of the shutdown stronger, while Trump emerged weaker. She's in such a strong position now that she just allowed Trump to give his State Of The Union address on February 5th, rather than force him to wait until after the three-week period is up. In essence, she is telling him: "Go ahead -- give your speech, because you'll only harm yourself by doing so."

Since Trump hasn't faced the reality of his midterm loss, he has also not faced the fact that he himself bears almost all of the blame for it. The Republicans had a midterm campaign all mapped out, and then Trump stomped all over it. Instead of talking about how great the economy was doing, the midterms would (Trump decreed) be all about fear of immigrants, who were arriving in caravans ready to invade America. They were bringing drugs, they were gang members, and they were probably going to rape your daughter after murdering you in your bed. In other words, Trump wasn't exactly subtle.

To repeat, though: Trump has already lost this argument. He lost it in the suburbs, he lost it with women, and he lost it with minorities. He lost 40 House seats by insisting on making immigration (and rampant fear) the centerpiece of his midterm campaign strategy. And he has yet to realize it.

His wall idea is also not popular. Poll after poll shows that the public (1) did not approve of the wall, (2) didn't think it was worth shutting the government down over, (3) blamed Trump for the shutdown, and (4) was still wondering why Mexico wasn't going to be paying for the wall in the first place, as Trump promised them so many times.

Democrats, in particular, were absolutely adamant about not giving Trump a dime for his wall. Trump thinks only the far-lefty fringe of the party thinks this, but he is dead wrong. Democrats hate the idea for a number of reasons, but the biggest two are that it's a stupid idea and that Trump is for it. For the past month, for Democrats, fighting the wall equated directly to fighting Trump and everything he stands for. Which is an incredibly unifying factor in the party as a whole right now. The harder Pelosi fought, the better, in other words.

Pelosi had to fend off doubters in her bid to become speaker again, but Trump read this fight completely wrong. The Democratic doubters weren't centrists worried that Pelosi would fight against Trump too much -- as Trump seems to still believe -- they were in fact worried that she wouldn't fight back hard enough. Those fears are all gone now, and the party stands united. Everyone with eyes can see this, except for those distracted by taking a picture of the Sphinx as their boat floats by.

Trump and his White House lackeys are still trying to frame this issue in laughable terms. They're trying to paint Trump as the "reasonable" one who is trying to "compromise." While normally those would be two things the public would likely approve of, it's pretty obvious that Trump simply doesn't fit into that mold. Trump was the one being unreasonable, and everyone knows it. Trump was the one who refused to compromise ($5.7 billion in wall money or the government never reopens, period). And yet they still seem to believe that this is a brilliant strategy that will turn public opinion to their side and put enormous pressure on Democrats to cave in to Trump's demands. Sheer lunacy.

The longer Trump's fundamental misread of the power dynamics of both his wall fight and of Nancy Pelosi, the better it is for Democrats. Trump is fighting the wrong battle, to put this another way, and the more energy he expends doing so means the Democratic path becomes much easier.

Sooner or later Trump is going to have to face the fact that Nancy Pelosi is in a lot stronger position than he thinks. If he were a normal Republican president, then he might have a chance of peeling off the more centrist Democrats in congressional showdowns, but he is not a normal Republican president. He is Donald Trump. The Republican Party is now just an extension of Trump. And the Resistance against Trump has been the primary motivating factor for Democrats since the day he got sworn into office. It is such a core unifying principle for Democrats right now that Democratic politicians don't even have to talk about it in their campaigns, because it is already taken as a given that all Democrats want to defeat Trump and everything he stands for.

The sooner Trump faces up to it, the sooner he might have a chance of actually getting something done with Democrats (a slight chance, to be sure, but it would improve). But if he continues to misread their basic bargaining position so badly, then Nancy Pelosi is going to win battle after battle with him. During a meeting of Republican senators and Mike Pence last week, Mitch McConnell told Pence that "there is no education in the second kick of a mule." Or, perhaps more appropriately, "the second bite of a crocodile." Whichever metaphor floats your boat, though, it seems as if Trump may need three or four of them before he ends his long river cruise down De Nile.

-- Chris Weigant


Follow Chris on Twitter: @ChrisWeigant


4 Comments on “Not Just A River In Egypt”

  1. [1] 
    SF Bear wrote:

    If the Kennedy presidency resembled Camelot then the Trump administration is a smelly used camel lot.

  2. [2] 
    Paula wrote:

    Democrats hate the idea for a number of reasons, but the biggest two are that it's a stupid idea and that Trump is for it. For the past month, for Democrats, fighting the wall equated directly to fighting Trump and everything he stands for. Which is an incredibly unifying factor in the party as a whole right now. The harder Pelosi fought, the better, in other words.


    While Elizebeth Warren didn't get 20,000 people to show up in Iowa, she got higher turnout than expected and Kamala Harris blew it out of the water. Democrats can't wait to get to work for 2020. Before the midterms we often saw repeated Ted Cruz's comment: "Democrats will crawl over broken glass to vote" and that goes DOUBLE to vote against DT. And this shutdown was a proxy - we didn't like it and worried constantly about the victims of it but we felt very strongly that if Dems gave in we'd replay that record over and over and we are sick and tired of enabling Republicans. So Nancy coming out strong and staying strong was the right choice in every way.

    McConnell said, re: Kavanaugh, "these things blow over."


  3. [3] 
    TheStig wrote:

    Just to hone the metaphor a bit:

    Pharaoh Ptrump is rowing his barge up the Nile, against the current and underwater. He doesn't give an Aswan Damn what anybody says about his chances. That includes the High Priests and even Higher Priestesses of The Fox Cult.

    As the ancient Egyotian curse puts it: "It's your funeral rites pal."

  4. [4] 
    Paula wrote:

    FWIW: CNN says the Kamala Harris Town Hall in Iowa last night was "was the most watched cable news single candidate election town hall ever."

    I liked her quite a bit.

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