It was a stark acknowledgment of political failure by a president who claims to never back down. The border wall he built his campaign on is all but gone as a realistic prospect now – crumbling along with the façade that Trump’s sheer force of personality could bend Washington to his will.
Appearing in the White House Rose Garden Friday afternoon, Trump said he was celebrating “a deal.” But it was telling that he stood alone, as he surrendered by accepting the same offer Democrats put on the table weeks ago.
Between a postponed State of the Union address and the spending capitulation, Trump twice this week blinked in a showdown with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi.
He managed to unite Democrats and anger portions of his base – Ann Coulter quickly labeled him “the biggest wimp to ever serve as President of the United States” – while keeping open the possibility of doing it all over again in three weeks’ time.
Good news for George Herbert Walker Bush: As of today, he is no longer the biggest wimp ever to serve as President of the United States.
Add in an indictment of longtime Trump political associate Roger Stone, courtesy of special counsel Robert Mueller, plus the economic and human damage from the shutdown, and the week left Trump diminished, hemmed in, and desperate to turn the page.
Trump’s political instincts and his go-to methods of communicating directly with the American people failed him. A new ABC News-Washington Post poll released Friday saw his approval rating drop to 37 percent, with approval of Pelosi and the Democrats’ handling of the shutdown outpacing his own handling by 20 points.
Along the way of this extraordinary 35 days, Trump and his administration appeared out-of-touch with the difficulties faced by 800,000 federal workers who have gone more than a month without paychecks. He singled out for thanks the “many” he claimed “encouraged me to keep going forward,” but that was a Trump-created construct that didn’t fit with the realities the nation saw.
Washington’s realities, meanwhile, have imposed themselves on Trump. Pelosi emerges as a hero to Democrats, barely three weeks into a speakership where she anticipated difficulties in taming new voices on the party’s aggressive left.
“No one should ever underestimate the speaker, as Donald Trump has learned,” Senate Democratic Leader Charles Schumer, Trump’s fellow New Yorker, offered Friday.
For all of this, Trump bought himself just 21 days of spending peace. The president said he sees a “good chance” of striking a deal in the coming three weeks, but added that he doesn’t get what he insists on, “obviously we’ll do the emergency because that’s what it is – it’s a national emergency.”
That’s a fraught and legally dubious path that even many Trump loyalists dismiss as a terrible precedent that would almost certainly be held up by federal courts. Trump, though, spent most of his time in the Rose Garden making the same case he’s been making for weeks – or years, in some cases – about the need for a wall he was not and almost certainly will not be getting.
Virtually all government shutdowns seem rather pointless in retrospect – the product of unrealistic ambitions and expectations colliding with stubborn realities.
Trump once famously declared, in outlining his case for election, “I alone can fix it.” His Washington now stands horribly broken, and he walks away alone from a damaging shutdown’s wreckage, having accomplished nothing.
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