Donald Trump was elected president partly by assuring the American people that “I alone can fix it.”
But precisely two years into his presidency, the government is not simply broken — it is in crisis, and Trump is grappling with the reality that he cannot fix it alone.
Trump’s management of the partial government shutdown — his first foray in divided government — has exposed as never before his shortcomings as a dealmaker. The president has been adamant about securing $5.7 billion in public money to construct his long-promised border wall, but has not won over congressional Democrats, who consider the wall immoral and have refused to negotiate over border security until the government reopens.
The 30-day shutdown — the impacts of which have begun rippling beyond the federal workforce into everyday lives of millions of Americans — is defining the second half of Trump’s term and has set a foundation for the nascent 2020 presidential campaign.
The shutdown also has accentuated several fundamental traits of Trump’s presidency:
- His lack of empathy, in this case for furloughed workers;
- his inability to accept responsibility for a crisis he had said he would be proud to instigate;
- his insistence on revenge when it comes to one-upping political foes; and
- his inability to understand Democrats’ motivations.
Trump on Saturday made a new offer to end the shutdown, proposing three years of deportation protections for some immigrants, including young people known as “Dreamers,” in exchange for border wall funding.
But before Trump even made it to the presidential lectern in the White House’s stately Diplomatic Reception Room to announce what he called a “straightforward, fair, reasonable, and common sense” proposal, Democrats rejected it as a non-starter.
“What the president presented yesterday really is an effort to bring together ideas from both political parties,” Vice President Pence said Sunday on CBS’s “Face the Nation.” “I think it is an act of statesmanship on the president’s part to say, ‘Here is what I’m for. It includes my priorities, it includes priorities that Democrats have advanced for some period of time,’ and we believe it provides a framework for ending this impasse.”
Such an accord has proven elusive, however, in part because Democrats believe they have the upper hand politically in opposing Trump’s wall and feel no imperative to give ground.
“What really drove him was ‘Art of the Deal,’ that he could get stuff done in D.C. and deal with the knuckleheads,” said Republican strategist Mike Murphy, a sharp Trump critic. “People saw him as some sort of business wizard. That’s all disintegrating. It’s like McDonald’s not being able to make a hamburger.”
Trump has approached the shutdown primarily as a public relations challenge. He has used nearly every tool of his office — including a prime-time Oval Office address as well as a high-profile visit to the U.S.-Mexico border — to convince voters that the situation at the souther border has reached crisis levels and can only be solved by constructing a physical barrier.
Trump’s advisers argue the president has been successful at educating and persuading Americans even though his efforts have not led to a bipartisan deal. “You can’t turn an aircraft carrier on a dime,” said one White House official who, like some others interviewed, spoke on the condition of anonymity to be candid.
But the data tell a more troubling story for the president. One month into the shutdown, the longest in U.S. history, a preponderance of public polls show Trump is losing the political fight. For instance, a Jan. 13 Washington Post-ABC News survey found that many more Americans blame him than blame Democrats for the shutdown, 53 percent to 29 percent. And the president’s job approval ratings continue to be decidedly negative.
“Even though he thinks he’s doing a great job for his core, it’s ripping the nation apart,” said one Trump friend, who spoke only on the condition of anonymity. “I don’t think there is a plan. He’s not listening to anybody because he thinks that if he folds on this he loses whatever constituency he thinks he has.”
Fundamentally, what’s wrong with Trump is that he is a FAILURE; a LOSER; everything he tried failed, went bankrupt; he is NOT a dealmaker; he’s a bully with the maturity of a 6-year-old.