On Tuesday, December 11, Donald Trump hosted a meeting in the Oval Office with Nancy Pelosi and Chuck Schumer for the parties to negotiate a compromise on spending measures that would keep the government open and avoid a shutdown. It was a catastrophe for the president, who demanded funding for his border wall and insisted that he would be proud to shut down the government if he didn’t get it.
Fast forward to one week later, and Trump caved—suggesting that he would find “other funding” for his border wall. Given that concession, the senate passed a short-term spending bill (sans funding for the wall) on Wednesday, assuming the crisis had passed.
Not so fast. On Thursday morning, a tweet from Trump indicated he might not be done yet.
Sure enough, a few hours later Speaker Paul Ryan emerged from the White House with an announcement.
BREAKING Ryan says Trump won’t sign Senate passed CR: “He will not sign this bill” pic.twitter.com/mFT6p64fMw
— Seung Min Kim (@seungminkim) December 20, 2018
It seems that the toddler-in-chief is having a bit of a tantrum.
A person close to the president described him as being “100%” in a tailspin over the shutdown fight @NBCNews
— Jesse Rodriguez (@JesseRodriguez) December 20, 2018
Given the speed with which this president impulsively reacts, it is very possible that by the time I’ve finished writing this, he will have changed his mind again. That is one of the challenges of attempting to document the Trump presidency.
But Colby Itowitz captures exactly what is going on here.
Trump has shown time and again that he cares way more about his supporters and his good standing with them than he does about the Republican Party. That has made him an impossible negotiating partner.
When it seemed as if Trump was going to cave, the right-wing media piled on. Ann Coulter called him “gutless,” and Breitbart News noted Trump’s walk-back of promises from the campaign (like the fact that “the big, beautiful wall” is now concrete slates). Moreover, Trump’s loyal foot soldiers on Capitol Hill are urging him to reject the spending deal, warning of the major damage it would cause Trump with his base and his 2020 reelection bid. In fact, the leaders of the Freedom Caucus and are going to the White House on Thursday afternoon to deliver that message.
It could be that Coulter, Breitbart, or members of the Freedom Caucus got the president all riled up again. Or maybe he had a chat with his white nationalist advisor Stephen Miller, or consulted on the phone with his Fox News shadow cabinet—Lou Dobbs and Sean Hannity. Who knows? It could also be that Trump is simply unstable and impulsive.
Whatever the reason, this isn’t the first time the president has pulled a stunt like this.
A similar dynamic played out over immigration earlier this year when Schumer offered Trump a deal: funding for his border wall in exchange for a path to citizenship for “dreamers,” the undocumented immigrants brought to America as children. Schumer believed Trump was on board, but as soon as Trump received pushback from his supporters, he turned down the deal.
Which, in a way, is how we got here. Trump never sticks with one line of thinking. His positions are constantly shifting, and he doesn’t provide any lawmakers on Capitol Hill any guidance of where his head is at any moment.
When Ryan emerged from his meeting at the White House he called the president’s demand for funding of the border wall “reasonable” and it seems that House Republicans will attempt to comply with his latest demands. But you have to wonder how long the majority of them are going to be willing to put up with this nonsense from Trump. Along with all of his other liabilities, the president is clearly an impossible negotiating partner.
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