I did not watch last night’s speech because I assumed it would be a waste of time. This decision was apparently correct:
There are, however, two huge problems for Trump with that approach.
One is that immigration hawks themselves do not believe that the marginal value of additional fence-building is high, largely because the United States already has a lot of border fences, which means the most valuable fencing is already in place. Consequently, immigration restrictionists in Congress and in the White House have been unwilling to strike a deal that offers Democrats anything of value — hence the need to try to extort the money from Democrats with the shutdown.
The other is that the key premise of Trump’s campaign was that all the wonky kvetching about the impossibility of his absurd border wall was just excuse-making by feckless politicians. That was the central political premise of his campaign — that he, Trump, would get tough in a unique way. To admit that actually, his critics were right all along and the smartest thing to do is simply to continue what the Bush, Clinton, Bush, and Obama administrations were already doing would be politically devastating.
So Trump is asking Democrats to help him out of a political jam that he created by lying, and in exchange, he’s offering them nothing. Not surprisingly, they are not taking the deal.
What we witnessed Tuesday night was not a president addressing the nation about a crisis, but a president flailing.
Simply put, he can’t even begin to put together a coherent argument for why this funding dispute about fence construction justifies a government shutdown. At the end of the day, there is literally nothing more banal in American political history than the president having a proposal he can’t get the opposition party to agree to. If every policy standoff ended in a government shutdown, we couldn’t have a country at all.
If Trump wants his wall, he needs to give Democrats something to make it worth their while to give it to him. Alternatively, if he’s prepared to admit the whole thing is actually ridiculous, then he can walk away. Either way, there is no earthly reason that negotiations can’t simply continue with the government open. National parks are filling with trash while vital law enforcement personnel are working without pay for no reason at all — it’s ridiculous and maddening.
So ridiculous that it once again raises the frightening question of how a president who can’t successfully manage peace and prosperity would manage to deal with an actual national crisis. On Monday, congressional Democrats announced a new push for an investigation into Hurricane Maria — the hardest test Trump has thus far faced. What we saw then was that when challenged by a genuinely difficult situation, Trump simply allowed millions of Americans to languish in darkness for months while nearly 3,000 people died. And judging by Tuesday’s speech, his ability to handle even problems with a low degree of difficulty is getting worse, as his team is increasingly denuded of people with a modicum of honesty or competence.
Repudiation at the polls clearly hasn’t caused Trump to rethink anything about this disastrous approach, so we’re now all just left to hope for the best over the next two years. With luck, at some point, we’ll have a functioning government again.
Hillary Clinton was, if anything, too prepared.