Who’s “Dumb As a Rock?”

He was dumb as a rock and I couldn’t get rid of him fast enough.President Donald Trump tweeting on Rex Tillerson on December 7, 2018, after his former secretary of state said Trump is undisciplined, does not like to read, and is willing to commit illegal acts. 

You know what I’ll say: Yes, if we don’t get what we want, one way or the other — whether it’s through you, through a military, through anything you want to call — I will shut down the government. Absolutely…. I am proud to shut down the government for border security…. So, I will take the mantle. I will be the one to shut it down.Trump in an Oval Office meeting with presumptive House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, December 11, 2018.

One of the more interesting questions of the Trump era (aside from how many criminal acts he committed as a candidate and while in office) is: Just how dumb is the president?

We know he does not read, at least not much. We know he was ignorant of the historical significance of Frederick Douglass. We know candidate Trump did not understand the Republican position on abortion nor the nature of the nuclear triad. We also know President Trump embarrassingly was unaware of the meaning of NATO’s collective security clause. The list goes on….

Presumptive House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, Vice President Mike Pence, President Donald Trump, and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer.

But, few thought Trump would be so foolish as to give away the whole ballgame in a rash statement during his White House meeting with Pelosi and Schumer. After all, the trick in Washington is to pin a government shutdown on the other side. Now, we have a president who, for the first time, pinned it on himself! Way to go, Mr. President!

I suppose a case can be made that Trump, once again, is playing to his base supporters in threatening a partial government shutdown at midnight on December 21 over funding for his border wall. Trumpistas, after all, despise the government and probably believe shutting it down is a good thing. They also may consider his threat a sign of manly toughness, though Pelosi may have had the last word on that when she said, “It’s like a manhood thing with him — as if manhood can be associated with him. This wall thing!” As for Schumer, he could barely contain his glee, breaking into a wide smile at Trump’s ineptness, declaring simply, “Okay. Fair enough.”

Texas Senator John Cornyn, second-ranking Senate Republican.

Trump befuddled congressional Republicans, who along with members of the administration, have been laying the groundwork for a “Schumer shutdown” by trying to blame Democrats if an agreement on border security is not reached. “I don’t understand the ­strategy, but maybe he’s figured it out and he’ll tell us in due course,” said Senator John Cornyn of Texas, the second-ranking Republican in the Senate. “But I don’t understand it.” The third-ranking GOP senator, John Thune of South Dakota, agreed. “It [a shutdown] would not be good.” Thune added, “The president has his own style and way of negotiating.” 

That is putting it nicely. During the campaign, Trump billed himself as the master negotiator, the author (kind of) of the best-selling, “The Art of the Deal.” I will leave it to the experts, but I am pretty sure a good negotiator does not go into talks declaring his or her willingness to take responsibility if the negotiations break down. And speaking of deals, whatever happened to Trump’s promise that Mexico would pay for the wall? “We will build a great wall along the southern border. And, Mexico will pay for the wall,” candidate Trump promised on September 1, 2016.

Promises, promises! Of course, Mexico was never going to pay for the wall, so now Trump has to beseech Congress for funding. The president thinks it is a winning issue for him. “If we have to close down the country over border security, I actually like that in terms of an issue,” Trump said after the meeting with Pelosi and Schumer. “I will take it because we are closing it down for border security, and I think I win that every single time.”

There are three problems with Trump’s analysis. First, he ignores the simple fact that for the next few weeks, Republicans control all the branches of the government, which Pelosi pointed out. “…[I]n the House, you could bring it up [a bill funding the wall for five-billion dollars] right now, today,” she said. While the rules of the Senate dictate that Republicans will need some Democratic votes to pass the bill, the House is simpler, and the simple truth is that the GOP lacks the votes to pass a border security bill in the lower chamber, despite controlling a majority of representatives. And, frankly, Trump does not have the negotiating skills to persuade reluctant Republican House members to vote for funding his wall.

The second problem with Trump trying to pin blame on the Democrats is that the border wall is not very popular. In a poll taken last summer, a majority (57 percent) of Americans opposed expanding construction of the wall along the Mexican border. It is difficult to imagine many people rallying to Trump’s side because he shut down the government over funding a wall they oppose. 

Finally, Trump’s assessment is wrong because shutting down the government is never a winning issue. Trump believes Democrats will lose the current fight over funding because Schumer and his colleagues caved a year ago when they shut down the government over a path for citizenship for the Dreamers (immigrants brought to America illegally at a young age). But, that dispute differs from the current one in two ways: First, this time, Trump is the one making demands, and, second, Dreamers have much more support than the wall. If a shutdown over the Dreamers was a loser, then one over the wall is even more so. Besides, no one ever wins for causing a government shutdown. Just ask Senator Ted Cruz about the closing of the government he caused in 2013, or former House Speaker Newt Gingrich about the 1995 shutdown. Moreover, shutting down the government just before Christmas — throwing federal workers off the payroll — seems particularly Grinch-like.

So, Mr. President, who is dumb as a rock?

Posted December 14, 2018

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