Why sign a bad spending bill now if you’re willing to shut down the government to block a bad spending bill later?
Ed covered Trump’s tweets this morning but I need to chime in with my mystification over the strategy. Why is he willing to sign the current bill if he thinks a shutdown might be warranted over the next one? The current bill is bad enough that Heritage Action is urging congressional Republicans to vote no on it notwithstanding the leadership’s support. If they ignore that advice and pass it, as everyone expects, then Trump will have the opportunity to exercise his executive prerogative by punting the bill back to them and telling them to do better. So why doesn’t he? And why aren’t more grassroots Republicans demanding that he do so? The right waited eight years for a president who’d impose fiscal discipline on Congress — or, at least, who’d insist that their own policy priorities get funded instead of the left’s. You’ve got that now, yet the current bill does next to nothing for Trump’s agenda apart from defense. So why is he mimicking the worst tendencies of “swamp Republicans” by surrendering in the battle at hand while vowing to score a big victory on the next one? If the country really does “need a good ‘shutdown'” to break the obstruction in Congress, he’s arguably better off forcing that now, to set the tone early in his presidency, then delaying.
We can turn the headline around too, though. Why threaten to shut down the government later to block a bad spending bill if you’re willing to sign one now? If you’re going to cave and enact a bad bill because you’re afraid of a shutdown, just do it and be quiet about it. It’s a rational fear. The GOP faces a double whammy in being blamed since (a) they’re the party in power and (b) they’re philosophically more skeptical of government than Democrats so the public naturally assumes they’re more comfortable with shutdowns than Democrats are. A protracted shutdown, especially over an unpopular measure like the border wall, could badly damage a new president like Trump whose approval rating is tepid to begin with. Go figure that he’d want to avoid it. (In fact, I’d be surprised if any U.S. president has endorsed a shutdown before today.) But here’s the point: If you’re going to duck a fight because you don’t want voters to see you as pro-shutdown, don’t then turn around and start tweeting things that make you look like you’re pro-shutdown. His dopey tweet this morning about how maybe we need a standoff in September will be recycled endlessly this fall in fact the GOP finds itself in a confrontation over spending and tries to blame Democrats for causing it. Either be a tough guy who’s willing to engage in brinksmanship with Schumer and Pelosi right now to fund your priorities or be the compromise-minded dealmaking president who’d never let the lights go out on the federal government. Try to be both by staking out some middle-ground position between the two and you end up, in the timeless words of Mr Miyagi — squish, just like grape. Even Chris Hayes is calling him a wimp for it, for cripes sake.
How to explain all this? Trump isn’t playing eight-dimensional chess; he’s barely playing checkers. This explanation is likely correct, alas:
He was prepared to sign a bad bill that gave him virtually nothing he wanted because, in the end, there are few policies he’ll go to the mat for. But when he saw Fox and Rush Limbaugh and other usually stalwart allies uncharacteristically dumping all over it, threatening his popularity among his base? Then it was time to prove his tough-guy mettle again by saber-rattling over a shutdown.
Here’s Paul Ryan doing his best to sell this turd of a bill. Don’t worry about the wall, he assures Republicans. We’ll win … later.
Update: This is also possible:
He knew beforehand, of course, that the bill didn’t deliver money on the wall but he may not have had a sense of how comprehensively terrible it would be viewed on the right. Now he knows, so he’s back to talking about a shutdown.