Why Donald Trump was irrelevant in the government shutdown talks

The big story coming out of the first weekend of the 2018 government shutdown was this: ...

Posted: Jan 22, 2018 5:51 PM
Updated: Jan 22, 2018 5:51 PM

The big story coming out of the first weekend of the 2018 government shutdown was this: Where is President Donald Trump?

Trump held no public events over the weekend, and while the White House insisted he was aggressively working the phones, it didn't appear as though the President -- the man who has touted himself as the greatest deal-maker in world history -- was making much of a difference.

"I just don't think it helps for him to be involved at all," Arizona Republican Sen. Jeff Flake said of Trump on Sunday night. "The White House really hasn't been involved from what I've seen."

There's a simple reason for Trump's lack of active involvement: He doesn't possess any sort of deep policy knowledge on this issue and he is uninterested in educating himself on the finer points of the policy debates at work in the shutdown in order to have any sort of real influence over the way forward.

When Trump has waded into this government funding/immigration fight, he's managed to muddy the waters rather than make them clearer. His 55-minute public conversation with Democratic and Republican lawmakers earlier this month suggested he was very much open not only to a deal on DACA but a broader agreement on comprehensive immigration reform. Forty-eight hours later, Trump was angrily condemning plans to continue to allow immigrants from "shithole countries" into the US.

Last Friday, when Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer left his meeting with Trump, he said he believed a deal to avoid a government shutdown was in the offing. Within hours, he had been informed there would be no deal.

What explains that lurching between deal and no deal? The obvious answer is that Trump doesn't have a strong policy background on any issue other than trade. As a result, he is hugely persuadable -- usually by the last person who he talks to. So, what looks like a deal one minute turns into no deal an hour later. And, because he lacks interest in the policy nuance, misunderstandings abound as he agrees to things without even knowing he is doing so. (Witness Trump's seeming acquiescence to a "clean" DACA vote in that public meeting; House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy had to step in to make sure Trump didn't agree to something without even realizing he was doing it.)

Because of his unfamiliarity with details, Trump winds up being broadly superfluous to the intricate sort of negotiations that wind up closing the gaps between Republicans and Democrats -- or even between Republicans and Republicans -- on major issues.

Remember Trump's involvement in trying to win over wavering Republicans for his hoped-for repeal of the Affordable Care Act? Time and time again, GOP senators would emerge from meetings with Trump bewildered at his lack of a grasp about the specifics of any sort of deal. Trump's pitch to these lawmakers was of the 50,000-foot variety: Hey, we're all Republicans and Obamacare is bad, right? There was very little engagement with specific concerns about, say, Medicaid expansion dollars in their states.

It all makes some sense when you consider the role Trump played in his real estate ventures. He was never the guy negotiating the nitty-gritty details. He was the guy who came in the room at the end to close the deal by the sheer force of his personality.

That's clearly the role Trump would like to play in these shutdown negotiations. This, from Kevin Liptak's terrific Trump piece over the weekend, is telling (bolding is mine):

"In phone calls on Sunday, Trump encouraged Sen. John Cornyn and Rep. Kevin McCarthy, the No. 2 Republicans in the Senate and House, to reach an agreement with Democrats. But as he did at the end of last week, he stressed they should come to him with a deal instead of offering his own ideas for a way out, according to a person familiar with the calls."

The reason Trump isn't offering his ideas for a way out of the shutdown is that he doesn't have ideas for a way out of the shutdown. That, to his mind, isn't really his job. He's the closer. He comes in, signs the paper, shows everyone the signed paper and hands out the pen he used to sign it to some lucky person. That's the job.

The problem for Trump is that senators and House members don't have the same reaction to him that many in the business world do. They are not awed by being in his presence and, therefore, willing to do whatever his people tell them to do. They have their own constituencies and their own interests that exist entirely apart from Trump's charisma. (This is especially true when Trump's approval ratings sit in the high 30s/very low 40s.)

Trump is -- and will continue to be -- a bystander in the government shutdown talks because he simply has very little to offer. His lack of policy knowledge -- and his unstinting belief he already knows everything he needs to know -- make him, the President of the United States, largely irrelevant to the re-opening (or not) of the federal government. Amazing.

Mississippi Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Cases: 307332

Reported Deaths: 7095
CountyCasesDeaths
DeSoto20757248
Hinds19869408
Harrison17475302
Rankin13307275
Jackson13095243
Madison9886210
Lee9854169
Jones8289160
Forrest7522146
Lauderdale7185237
Lowndes6261144
Lamar610284
Lafayette6026117
Washington5279132
Bolivar4769129
Oktibbeha455297
Panola4440103
Pearl River4418139
Warren4277118
Marshall4267100
Pontotoc416472
Monroe4056132
Union403575
Neshoba3984176
Lincoln3869107
Hancock371985
Leflore3468124
Sunflower329389
Tate322681
Pike3177104
Scott310472
Yazoo304268
Alcorn297664
Itawamba296776
Copiah292965
Coahoma289677
Simpson287484
Tippah284668
Prentiss275659
Marion265679
Wayne261341
Leake260973
Grenada254882
Covington254380
Adams245882
Newton244859
George237647
Winston225981
Tishomingo222067
Jasper219748
Attala213273
Chickasaw204857
Holmes186471
Clay182354
Stone179131
Clarke176676
Tallahatchie175240
Calhoun163130
Yalobusha158636
Smith158534
Walthall130543
Greene129433
Lawrence126223
Noxubee125833
Montgomery125542
Perry125138
Carroll120826
Amite119941
Webster113432
Jefferson Davis105332
Tunica102525
Claiborne101330
Benton97225
Kemper95126
Humphreys94332
Franklin81723
Quitman78916
Choctaw72817
Jefferson64828
Wilkinson64727
Sharkey49617
Issaquena1686
Unassigned00

Alabama Coronavirus Cases

Cases: 518588

Reported Deaths: 10712
CountyCasesDeaths
Jefferson753351487
Mobile37698798
Madison33829494
Tuscaloosa25245443
Montgomery23942565
Shelby23094238
Baldwin20617300
Lee15510165
Calhoun14277311
Morgan14137268
Etowah13660345
Marshall11952219
Houston10379278
Elmore9988200
Limestone9806147
Cullman9467188
St. Clair9422234
Lauderdale9208227
DeKalb8745181
Talladega8042171
Walker7087275
Jackson6753110
Autauga6715103
Blount6480135
Colbert6200130
Coffee5397112
Dale4766110
Russell428238
Franklin419882
Chilton4080109
Covington4053114
Tallapoosa3892146
Escambia387574
Dallas3526149
Chambers3499122
Clarke346360
Marion3065100
Pike305475
Lawrence295295
Winston272272
Bibb256258
Marengo248561
Geneva245875
Pickens232959
Barbour224755
Hale218675
Butler212266
Fayette208960
Henry187844
Cherokee182044
Randolph176741
Monroe171240
Washington163838
Macon154348
Clay149354
Crenshaw149257
Cleburne146041
Lamar139234
Lowndes136453
Wilcox124327
Bullock121340
Conecuh109028
Perry107926
Sumter102932
Coosa99228
Greene90734
Choctaw58624
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