Is Donald Trump is colluding with Nancy Pelosi instead of Vladimir Putin? Is he a machiavellian savant who knows that his only path to reelection in 2020 is to help elect a Democratic congressional majority in 2018?
Those are the only rational explanations for his endorsing, just 99 days before a tight midterm election, a shutdown of the federal government if Democrats don’t fund a border wall between the United States and Mexico. (Put aside the fact that congressional Republicans control spending. Smart strategies aren’t necessarily fact-checked strategies.)
It’d be poetic irony for Democrats if the seemingly impervious Republican congressional redistricting wall was toppled by the wrecking ball being swung around by the president. It’d be poetic irony if the border wall ruined the firewall. But it’s certainly possible.
I chaired the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee in 2013. President Obama had been reelected and we were halfway through a brutal midterm cycle. I was practically begging potential candidates to run. The electorate was evenly divided in their preference between a Congress controlled by Democrats or Republicans. But in October of that year, House Republicans decided to shut down the federal government over their hostility to the Affordable Care Act.
Within days, I went from cold-calling prospective candidates to being unable to return a flood of calls. The generic congressional preference ballot went from the doldrums to nearly double digits for Democrats. A staggering 80 percent of the public disapproved of the shutdown, and 53 percent of Americans squarely blamed Republicans, compared to 28 percent who blamed Obama. That was then. This is worse.
First, no federal shutdown was ever previously attempted in a midterm election year because Republicans realized they were playing with fire and needed time to put it out. Today, we’re 98 days from a majority likely to be decided by a handful of districts. Second, in 2013 we had divided government and the Republicans made a bizarre strategic assumption that blame would be focused on Democrats. In 2018, Republicans fully control both sides of Pennsylvania Avenue. Trying to blame Democrats for a shutdown would be like blaming the needle for the haystack.
Trump’s political advisers already have signaled that they plan to use immigration to energize the conservative base in what they fear will be low Republican turnout this midterm. But this election cycle, Republicans must hold seats in more moderate districts in California, Pennsylvania, Minnesota and New Jersey. In those places, Republicans simply can’t win with only the zealots against immigration.
There’s no sound reason for a shutdown threat, so I’m sticking with my original theory that our Republican president is secretly rooting for the election of a Democratic majority. He may even be taking a dive for Democrats. On the political street corners where Trump loiters, where thuggery meets conspiracy, it all makes perfect sense. At some point, he’ll run out of people to blame for his failures.
In 2020, he won’t be able to cast down-ballot blame on his own party, or run against his own congressional majority. This president is in desperate search of a foil, and what better foil than Democrats in control of Congress. He needs two years of preaching that he’s the only thing standing between survival and one-party control by the weak-kneed, ICE-melting, big-spending, crime-coddling cadre of socialists led by Bernie Sanders, Elizabeth Warren and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez.
His narcissistic belief that he can “shoot someone on Fifth Avenue and not lose any voters” holds even against those pesky Democratic oversight hearings, subpoenas and investigations. Trump thinks he’ll survive or thrive and stay in the White House another four years, or maybe more, if he can get Rudy Giuliani on the Supreme Court in his second term.
For now, perhaps his portrait should hang on the lobby wall of the Democratic National Committee headquarters, in between those of House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, with the caption “majority maker.” Trump is running his own “red to blue” election program using orange. Or maybe I’m giving him way too much credit. Maybe he just tweets angrily way too much.
Steve Israel represented New York in Congress for 16 years. He served as chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee from 2011 to 2015. He is a novelist and author of the new book, “Big Guns,” a satire of the gun lobby. You can follow him on Twitter @RepSteveIsrael.
Reprinted from TheHill.com