On December 19, the Senate passed a funding bill that the president at first said he would favor to fund the government until February 2019 while border wall discussion would take place. When some in his base got upset, he switched his position to that he will keep the government shut down until he received 5.7 billion dollars of funding for the wall
Then on Friday, January 25, the president backed down and supported the plan to open up the government for three weeks to give time to try to fashion a deal on border security.
Trump tried to put a positive spin on his capitulation, but it was clear to see what happened. He caved in. Some of the biggest critics were those who had pressed him back in December 2018 not to agree to a stop-gap funding measure. For example, conservative firebrand Ann Coulter tweeted: “Good news for George Herbert Walker Bush: As of today, he is no longer the biggest wimp ever to serve as President of the United States.” Mark Meckler, a co-founder of the Tea Party, commented in response to Trump’s move: “Certainly, he did not fulfill his promise to the base and I’m appalled. More importantly than me is what I’m hearing from the grassroots. They’re appalled.”
Trump put himself in an untenable position and decided that opening up the government was the better of two bad options.
The president made a lot of mistakes. He underestimated the political savvy of the leadership of the Democratic Party and Senator McConnell.
Trump had invited now House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate minority leader Chuck Schumer to a meeting on December 11 at the White House to discuss funding for the border. Trump, who had many years of experience being a television personality on the Apprentice and during the campaign, figured that he would sandbag Pelosi and Schumer by having a public discussion. Their initial response was to tell him that it is better to discuss these matters in private. The president instead had a public discussion where he was maneuvered into saying that he would own the shutdown. Once that happened, he should have realized that it was over. He should have changed course right then.
However, Trump decided to press on. For the first month of the shutdown, Senator McConnell was quiet. He had been embarrassed once when the president changed his mind, and was going to make sure it would not happen again. Also, McConnell understood that the president had to be taught a lesson of the importance of Congress. Every day that the shutdown continued, the worse it got for President Trump. After a month, McConnell, together with Senator Schumer, sprung the trap. They allowed the Senate to vote on the president’s plan for a budget with wall funding as well as the House of Representative’s (Democratic Party’s) plan to open up the government for a few weeks without wall funding. Although neither bill passed, more senators voted for the Democratic plan than the Trump plan despite the Republicans having a 53-47 majority in the Senate. It showed that the president was losing support even with members of his own party.
Then came the final straw: the major hit to travel due to air traffic controllers not coming to work and comments by members of the administration. The comments, including those by Commerce Secretary Wilber Ross, showed a lack of understanding of what the unpaid workers were going through. For example, Ross talked about the limited effect on the economy and that the workers can get short-term loans.
Trump also did not appreciate the importance of the federal government and how it affects people throughout the country. He thought it was mainly in the beltway.
This was not the first embarrassing defeat for the president. He was forced to delay his State of the Union address when the Speaker of the House told him that he was not welcome to speak in the House of Representatives until after the government was no longer shut down.
The lesson to be learned is the importance of institutional experience and knowledge of how the federal government works. Trump did not understand either, but he is not the only one. For example, Ocasio-Cortez did not even know the three branches of government. She thought the Senate, House of Representatives, and president are the three branches.
Pete Buttigieg, the 37-year-old mayor of South Bend, Indiana, thinks that he has the experience to be the next president. He said it is time for the next generation of leaders. Despite what Mr. Buttigieg or Ms. Ocasio-Cortez believe, being over 40 does not make you over the hill.
This arrogance of youth over experience is not limited to the political arena. We see it throughout society where older, more experienced workers are being forced out in favor of younger workers. Being more tech-savvy does not necessarily make a person more qualified. Trump may not be young, but he is inexperienced in running a government. Nothing can beat experience, as he found out the hard way.
Warren S. Hecht is a local attorney. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org