Common Ground Between Right and Left: Trump Doesn't Know What He's Doing

There are still those who reflexively circle the wagons around Trump whenever he is criticized. Problems created by Trump are always someone else’s fault, be it fake news media, intelligence agencies, or the Freedom Caucus. There seems to be growing consensus to the right and left of Trump though.


Unfortunately the common ground is just an agreement that President Trump doesn’t really know what he’s doing.

The braggadocio about how he is uniquely capable to tackle the problems in Washington still gets retweeted or cheered by his followers at the rallies for his never ending campaign, but Trump hasn’t been able to translate that into action. Until last week, Trump was being judged on little more than who he was selecting for key jobs in his administration. The healthcare failure for which he is blaming Democrats, the Freedom Caucus, and through surrogates, Paul Ryan, is entirely on Trump, if only because he promised that he alone could fix the problem. Not only didn’t he fix it, by most accounts he didn’t even understand it.

On the Start Making Sense podcast MSNBC’s Chris Hayes was a guest of host John Wiener. Hayes—or anyone from MSNBC, to be honest—is someone with whom I seldom if ever agree on anything, but I find it hard to argue with this analysis of the President’s performance. Trump didn’t even know what was in the healthcare bill. His unique expertise consisted of delegating it to others and saying “get it done” while he went around glad handing or threatening as needed.

HAYES: The in-the-room accounts of his negotiating on the healthcare bill were that the guy knew literally—and I mean literally—nothing about this bill and he called it terrific. He said, “Cut it out with the little sh*t.” Yeah, “Cut it out with the little sh*t. Let’s focus on the big picture,” when they’re talking about, like, essential health benefits, which is not little sh*t. Okay?

So if he can’t negotiate that in a granular fashion…tax reform is more complicated, more difficult. So how is going to negotiate that?

WIENER: Let’s go back to Art of the Deal. One of the fundamental principles of Art of the Deal is that your opponents should never see that you are desperate; they should never see your weaknesses. He gave them an ultimatum. We’ve got to have a vote on this. Yes or no. There’s no plan B. And his own party defied him.

HAYES: Defied him and called his bluff that he was exposed on. Remember the message from the White House Thursday night and Friday morning was: There will be a vote, because we’re going to see who’s loyal and who’s not publicly. Which was an intimidation tactic and a bluff. And they called the bluff and then what did he do? He pulled the bill. So now it’s like, why should you be scared of this guy? That goes for Democrats as well.

And particularly now—when you take about desperate—their first legislative agenda crashed and burned in a shockingly ignominious fashion. Now there’s all the more pressure to get a win on taxes which means you’ve given away your leverage from a negotiating standpoint. Because what’s he going to do, walk away from the other big thing they’re now moving on to?


If there is successful tax reform legislation, it will almost certainly be because those in Congress are less divided on that issue. It won’t be because Trump repeats ad nauseam that the new tax plan is really great and terrific and you’re going to be very happy with it.

In a piece for Politico, Rich Lowry, editor of National Review describes the crisis that exists in “Trumpism.” 

This isn’t a function of poll numbers, or the Russia controversy, or any other melodrama of the past three months, but something more fundamental: No officeholder in Washington seems to understand PrTesident Donald Trump’s populism or have a cogent theory of how to effect it in practice, including the president himself.

It is a big jump from flaming people on Twitter to actually enacting coherent policy.

Trump, for his part, has lacked the knowledge, focus or interest to translate his populism into legislative form. He deferred to others on legislative priorities and strategies at the outset of his administration, and his abiding passion in the health-care debate was, by all accounts, simply getting to a signing ceremony.

Everything was about getting the “win” in order to bolster Trump’s much celebrated—by himself mostly—deal making expertise. The content of the bill didn’t matter. That people weren’t buying the “three phase” approach packed with IOUs from politicians who don’t have a reputation for delivering didn’t matter. The only problem Trump seemed willing or able to see or address was that people opposed Trump.


Trump’s recent talk about working with Democrats seems completely detached from reality. While Trump is at heart a Democrat—despite all the talk-radio wing’s assurances to the contrary—the donkey party is more likely to impeach him than work with him on anything.

Now that the initial health-care bill has gone down, there’s loose talk from the White House of wooing Democrats, but a lot has transpired in the course of the past few months that makes this much harder. Most importantly, the left-wing “resistance” to Trump is fully activated and prepared to exact punishment on any quislings.

Lowry is right. There’s no up side for anyone on the left cooperating with Trump. They have the same impulse to ridicule, punish, and destroy dissenters that Trump himself does. Helping Trump would be a cardinal sin for most on the left. Whether that is actually based in reason is another issue, but make no mistake, many of them actually believe their Hitler talking points.

Working with Democrats and vowing to fight the Freedom Caucus are just more bluffs that no opponent should be concerned about anymore. Every obstacle he has faced receives the same ineffectual responses from him. The man who once said he values being unpredictable has become as predictable as his own speech patterns. Has Trump given us any reason to think he has anything in his bag of tricks that he hasn’t yet used? I’m not holding my breath waiting for a surprise new strategy or grasp of policy.


Does Trump have any bluffs left to call?


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