On Wednesday, President Donald Trump, for the second time this year, held a televised, high-profile, bipartisan sit down with members of Congress. The subject was how to best remedy America’s school-shooting epidemic.
If we think back to 2018’s first such meeting, which addressed DACA, we’ll recall Trump’s performance was a bit of a head-scratcher. I wrote:
“A rare example of public negotiation involving the president and leaders from both parties, it’s been speculated that this unusual move was an attempt to show the President, despite the suggestions from Michael Wolff’s controversial book, is actually mentally fit and perhaps even a very stable genius who’s, like, really smart.
“Nice try. What we instead witnessed was another confirmation of our suspicions: Trump rarely knows what he’s talking about. He sent several mixed, even contradictory, signals. The beauty of it is that the decision to televise the meeting has given us wonderfully entertaining video, like when we see the President, so easily swayed by an argument, allow Senator Diane Feinstein (D-CA) to steer him toward the Democratic position (“a clean DACA bill”), which the President agreed was what he wanted (“I have no problem with that. . . . Yeah, I would like to do that”) before Republican Congressman Kevin McCarthy interrupted to remind him of the GOP’s position, back toward which Trump awkwardly tacked.”
Wednesday was the President’s chance at redemption. He could show viewers that, this time, Democrats couldn’t sway him by the mere power of suggestion.
It didn’t go well. Here are some highlights:
- The President asked for a “powerful” bill on background checks. Democrats pitched the following ideas:
- Enhancing, ensuring the accuracy of, and enforcing existing background checks;
- That would include gun sales at gun shows and online, where many transactions go legally unchecked;
- A Dianne Feinstein-crafted assault weapons ban, which Trump gave his blessing to put in a bill, an openness after which the Democratic Senator could not hide her glee.
- He rejected including in this potential bill an idea popular with House Republicans — concealed carry across state lines: “If you’re going to put concealed carry between states into this bill, we’re talking about a whole new ballgame. You’ll never get this passed if you add concealed carry to this, you’ll never get it passed. We want to get something done.” (He’s not wrong.)
- Trump himself reiterated his interest in banning bump-stocks and raising the minimum handgun-purchasing age from 18 to 21.
- Explaining the difficulty in passing gun control legislation, Trump prosecuted his fellow Republicans: “You’re scared of the NRA. . . . Some of you people are petrified of the NRA. You can’t be petrified. You can’t be petrified.” A Republican president said that. A Republican president said that.
- He also pitched perhaps the most un-Republican idea of the meeting. Regarding the armed mental ill, many of whom Republican Senator Chuck Grassley wanted to Constitutionally protect if they were not dangers to society, the President recommended, “Take the firearms first and then go to court. A lot of times by the time you go to court, it takes so long to go to court, to get the due process procedures. I like taking the guns early.” So, to be clear, a Republican President recommended violating both the Second Amendment and due process before then following due process. (Hold for laughs.)
- All told, these ideas certainly qualified as “comprehensive” gun control, a word that the President apparently likes: “I like that word, ‘comprehensive.’ They say it is a bad word. I like the word. I would rather have a comprehensive bill.” (No word on who “they” are.)
The Failing New York Times correctly summarized the moods of the two parties by meeting’s end, noting the “giddy Democrats and stone-faced Republicans.” At one point, while Trump agreed to everything he was hearing, Democratic Senators Feinstein and Amy Klobuchar shared a wink and a nod — an acknowledgement that Trump is a complete pushover in negotiation, since he has neither conviction, knowledge, nor a strategy.
Of course, on the flip side, those same weaknesses will mean he’ll eventually pass through rooms of advisers, Republican leaders, and NRA representatives who all thought the meeting went poorly (as did his media base, to whom we know the President pays much attention) and will easily redirect their vacuous leader back toward Republican policy. Republican Senator Ben Sasse seemed to understand the situation best, saying, “We’re not ditching any Constitutional protections simply because the last person the President talked to today doesn’t like them.”
These developments were part of a tumultuous week, even adjusted for Trumpflation. His surprising ideas on, or at least temporary acquiescence to, gun control were soon followed by proposals to enact tariffs on steel and aluminum. This protectionist approach, though foreshadowed since the election, is another break from modern Republican (and PPFA) ideology. The President also renewed his attacks on his own attorney general, longtime conservative titan Jeff Sessions. All told, as Vox’s Jane Coaston wrote, it seemed as if Trump were “stress-testing” the GOP.
Accompanying this drama was a comparatively buried story: Trump picked a campaign manager for 2020. Surely the first of several who will hold the position, Brad Parscale, who served as the Trump Campaign’s digital strategist in 2016, will look to recreate the magic that abracadabra’d punchline Donald Trump into President Donald Trump.
This website will have a lot to say about his chances at securing the nomination (a virtual lock) and winning re-election (slightly less than 50/50), but we’ll at least want to get through the midterms first. For the purpose of this post, however, let’s keep in mind that although the President gave us a week of heterodox rhetoric, he actually didn’t do anything. Many Republicans have been comfortable looking the other way on White House turnover, staff indictments, Russian meddling tolerance, personal faults, relentless leaks, and immature tweets because, though he rarely has a grasp of what he’s talking about, at least doesn’t have a D next to his name. He might be the most buffoonish president in history (cue fist pump from the decaying corpse of James Buchanan), but he signs Republican bills, usually endorses conservative policy, and the economy has continued to improve under his watch. At the end of February, the latest Reuters/Ipsos poll, which had numbers right in line with Real Clear Politics’s overall Presidential approval average, reveal that 80 percent of Republicans approve of his performance. (For comparison’s sake, I wrote a piece on October 27, 2016, called “How Trump Wins,” and I noted that 80 percent of Republicans supported him. He was elected president 12 days later.)
That’s a number too often overlooked by Democratic voters living in their Democratic bubbles. Most Republican Congressmen continue to seek Trump’s approval and embrace his agenda in their electoral appeals. Notably, even the last Bush in office — Jeb Bush’s son and Texas Land Commissioner George P. — has put aside the President’s attacks on his father and his uncle, President George W. Bush; he is desperate to align with Trump in an effort to win over Texans. We must always remember that in some ways we live in two Americas.
In 2020, President Trump, who programs drama for us every week, will give us the ultimate reality show. Even if he does make Republicans scratch their heads once in a while, nearly half of the country will want to watch it for four more years.