President Trump was ready to barge into the ongoing economic rescue negotiations Thursday demanding $2,000 relief checks for all Americans, Jeff Stein reports at the Washington Post. Aides apparently rushed to convince him not to blow up the negotiations on a whim.
The episode is remarkable not only for Trump’s lack of concern with basic negotiation strategy — generally making impulsive demands out of nowhere after weeks of sensitive talks is not the best way to succeed — but also for the timing. Trump lost the election in November, but as I have previously written, it was a very close thing indeed in the key Electoral College states. If Trump had gone to bat for significant pandemic relief before the election, he very likely would have cruised to re-election.
That’s Trump alright — the most incompetent man ever to occupy the White House, faceplanting one more time on the way out the door.
Now, there would have been certain obstacles to getting another economic rescue package before the election. It seems that Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi was not too keen on giving Trump a win in October, and repeatedly blew up negotiations herself. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, for whom the American economy is merely a hostage to be taken anytime there is a Democratic president, probably would have fought the idea as well, seeing how much Joe Biden was leading in the polls. More than half of the Republican Senate caucus are dyed-in-the-wool austerity believers, who view the idea of handing out checks to anyone aside from large corporations with nauseated disgust.
Nevertheless, House Democrats passed a massive rescue bill back in May in the form of the HEROES Act, which takes care of the Pelosi obstacle. Trump certainly could have bullied that through the Senate if he tried consistently for a few weeks. For one thing, he has an iron grip over the party caucus when he chooses to exercise it — Georgia Senators Kelly Loeffler and David Perdue, for instance, went along with Trump’s lunatic attacks on the Georgia governor and secretary of state (both Republicans, mind you) to avoid offending him. For another, his cultish supporters are so deranged that many local Republican officials live in fear of heavily-armed Trumpist mobs showing up armed at their homes. If Trump had turned up the pressure both personally and by turning his Twitter Sauron gaze on recalcitrant senators, enough Republicans would have folded to get it through, in days if not hours. (He did call for some more checks a couple times, but like this week, it was erratic and he quickly forgot about it.)
This would have been a hilarious own of Pelosi, incidentally, who pretty clearly did not want the HEROES Act to actually become law. It was a sop to the left, full of the goodies she deliberately left out of the CARES Act, like an extension of the $600 super-unemployment through January, hazard pay for frontline workers, another round of $1,200 checks, $500 billion in state aid, $375 billion in local aid, $10,000 in student debt relief, and so on. (It hurts just reading that list of stipulations.)
Had that passed sometime in June or so, the economic situation in this country would be fairly solid right now, instead of teetering on the precipice of disaster. Given what we know from political science literature and post-election reporting, the historic generosity of the CARES Act — by far the biggest handout to the working class in American history — played a key role in Trump doing as well as he did. If HEROES had passed, he would have been able to take credit for another rescue package that was even bigger. And given that Biden won Arizona, Georgia, and Wisconsin by only a few tens of thousands of votes, it is fair to surmise that Trump would have at least squeaked out a victory in the Electoral College had he pushed HEROES through.
But the whole Trump presidency has been like this. The man seems not only clueless about the federal government but actually incapable of understanding what it does. The only part of the pandemic rescue he has latched onto, again and again, has been the checks — and that because he could put his name on them. There are many reasons not to have an incurious, narcissistic dullard as president — the crumbling American state is evidence of that — but a big one is that they tend to be incapable of perceiving when helping the American people is in their own political best interest.