After a disastrous August, Donald Trump staggered into September. To some observers, Trump appeared to exhibit symptoms of a nervous breakdown; for example, spending a week defending his claim that Hurricane Dorian had threatened Alabama. He’s cracking under pressure. Trump knows he is in political trouble. He’s desperately searching for a big win.
On September 7, Trump called off a secret Camp David meeting with Taliban leaders, where he planned to sign an Afghanistan “peace agreement.” This was Trump’s ill-considered attempt at a big win.
In the 100 plus days between now and the end of the year, there are eight areas where Trump will search for political capital: the economy, foreign policy, gun control, government funding, healthcare/drug policy, impeachment, national security, and trade.
Impeachment: On September 12, House Democrats launchd a formal impeachment inquiry. Trump will not be able to make the multiple inquiries go away — there’s no big win for him with this situation. Instead, Trump will be subjected to more pressure, which will feed his desperate search for political capital.
Don’t expect Democrats to actually hold a vote on impeachment. That won’t happened in 2019 and probably won’t happen in 2020 unless something surfaces that is so egregious that it causes a massive shift in public opinion — which is currently running about 60 percent against impeachment.
Expect Democrats to get into Trump’s face every week with some new information about his malfeasance or incompetence. Enough to accelerate Trump’s descent into madness but not enough to change the minds of members of the Trump cult.
Gun Control: During the next couple of months, discussions about gun control will dominate the airwaves but in the end it will amount to a big nothing. 93 percent of Americans support background checks for all gun buyers, but the NRA is opposed and Trump — and Mitch McConnell — are beholden to the NRA. Trump will bloviate and confabulate. McConnell will say that the Senate won’t pass any legislation that Trump won’t sign. The ball will get passed back and forth. And then dropped. No big win here.
The economy: The latest ABC News/Washington Post poll (https://abcnews.go.com/Politics/ten-call-recession-trump-approval-drops-points-poll/story?id=65414875 ) indicates that sixty percent of respondents feel the U.S. economy will slide into recession during the next 12 months. However, the economic signs are mixed — the stock market is up, consumer confidence is down.
The reality is that there’s not a lot Trump can do to directly influence the economy — other than demonstrate steady leadership, which he is incapable of. There are certain strategic actions that he might have initiated a year or two ago — such as a massive infrastructure initiative — but Trump isn’t going to do that now.
Trump will harass the Federal Reserve Board and give stock traders collective atrial fibrillation — by lying about trade progress with China. But, there’s no big win here.
Trade: Trump’s biggest opportunity to positively influence the economy would be to stabilize trade relations with China. That’s unlikely to happen because Trump has dug in too deep and is constitutionally incapable of admitting he made a mistake.
Lurking in the wings is congressional approval of the NAFTA-replacement, the United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement (USMCA). Trump wants this but Democrats won’t pass it unless the labor and environmental provisions are strengthened.
Will Trump agree to Democratic demands in order to secure a win with USMCA approval? Possibly, but I bet that Speaker Pelosi will want some quid-pro-quo — such as White House cooperation with a phase of the impeachment proceedings — and it’s unlikely that Trump will go along with that. There’s a possibility of a Trump win here, but not a big one.
Government Shutdown: On September 30, various federal agencies run out of money. The latest information indicates that Senate Republicans and House Democrats will agree to a short-term funding bill to avert a shutdown. (https://www.politico.com/story/2019/09/09/mitch-mcconnell-government-shutdown-1486886 ) This will kick the can farther down the road — likely until the Thanksgiving recess.
The question is whether Trump will use the threat of government shutdown to press for a big win — such as massive funding for “the wall.” A year ago, December 22, 2018, Trump forced a 35-day shutdown but it didn’t achieve his objectives; so, it’s unlikely he will repeat this action.
Drug Prices: There’ve been recent suggestions that Trump will seek to accomplish his big win by doing something major about drug prices. Recently Speaker Pelosi has promoted a significant drug-price-reduction plan (https://www.nytimes.com/2019/09/10/us/politics/pelosi-trump-drug-prices.html ). Will Trump support this? (Possibly as the quid-pro-quo for support of his USMCA.) It’s certainly conceivable.
Foreign Policy: Between now and the end of 2019, Trump will be desperately seeking a big win. His best bet is to do something dramatic in the arena of foreign policy.
As this was being written, Trump fired John Bolton, his National Security Adviser, because Bolton didn’t approve of Trump’s desire to make a big foreign policy “splash” but cutting some sort of deal with Afghanistan, Iran, or North Korea. Now that Bolton is gone, it’s more likely that Trump will push for some sort of deal with Iran — possibly during Trump’s visit to the United Nations’ General Assembly at the end of the month.
National Security: The 18th anniversary of 9/11 reminds us that one of the reasons the United States was surprised by the terrorist attacks was that then President George W. Bush didn’t pay attention to critical briefings (https://www.nytimes.com/2012/09/11/opinion/the-bush-white-house-was-deaf-to-9-11-warnings.html ). Now we have another President that doesn’t pay attention to critical intelligence briefings. Worse yet, Trump has systematically fired all the experienced White House intelligence experts and replaced them with sycophants.
The current national-security situation suggests that, between now and year end, while Trump will not get the big win he so desperately seeks, he is increasing the odds of a big loss for the country.