As much as the media obsesses over President Trump, and as much as he exhibits to the media the behavior they love to hate, it is amazing how little the media remembers.
The latest flap over immigration policy, and especially the televised Oval Office meeting just last Tuesday with soon-to-be Speaker Nancy Pelosi and still-Senate Minority Leader Schumer, has the left and its media darlings all in a tizzy.
The fact is, the episode and its aftermath are vintage Trump — pure stagecraft. And anything the president said at that meeting had a shelf life of precisely one news cycle.
The White House meeting was orchestrated by Trump not to announce new substantive policy or signal a major change in policy. Trump has been railing about building the wall since long before he was elected in 2016.
His base continues to support him on that issue, and he knows this. He also must know the polling on the question of whether to build a wall has remained relatively constant over the course of his presidency and does not spike or crater depending on what he says. It’s all about negotiating. Think Bill Clinton.
Even more important than Trump’s oft-demonstrated ability to control the news cycle, is his notorious habit of maneuvering his adversaries into chasing critters down rabbit holes. This is simply a ploy to then strengthen his own bargaining position by appearing to back away from one of those red herrings.
The bottom line for this president is that virtually everything is negotiable, including “the wall.” Well, not the wall itself, but any aspect of it, including the funding amount and the timetable.
If Nancy Pelosi and Chuck Schumer returned to Capitol Hill after meeting with Trump the other day and told their colleagues that they had reached a complete dead end with the administration, neither one of them deserves the mantle of Democrat leader. What Trump was telling them, in reality, is: “I’ve made my latest offer; now give me yours and we’ll negotiate.”
For Democrats, if they fail to see things this way, they will be missing a golden opportunity to get something from Trump in return for some sort of compromise on funding for the wall.
With a number of important appropriations measure still awaiting final action by the Congress — bills that always are vessels into which both sides can pour goodies for their constituencies — Pelosi and Schumer surely can enunciate a list of items to include that are of value to their team.
Moreover, despite Trump’s boastful comments about relishing a “government shutdown,” Trump realizes such a move is not really in anyone’s long-term interests, notwithstanding short-term kudos with which his hard-core supporters would shower him.
Here again, Democrats should learn to look beyond the moment’s rhetoric. Bill Clinton was a master at this and tied the Republicans up in knots during the so-called “shutdown” in late 1995 and early 1996.
But after the mini-crisis blew over, Clinton and the congressional Republicans (led by then-Speaker Newt Gingrich) better understood each other. Both parties learned to play to their base but in a constructive way, and within a year-and-a-half, had passed historic welfare reform legislation and balanced the federal budget.
Both Pelosi and Schumer were in the House at that time, but right now, neither appears to have any recollection of how patience and negotiating skills cannot only strengthen one’s political base but accomplish real and substantive good for the country. Both leaders seem to be at least temporarily blinded by their perhaps understandable dislike for Trump or are feeling the heat from the more radical new members of their caucus.
If the Democratic leaders persist in concluding that there is nothing more to be gained by negotiating with Trump and by giving him some funding for the wall, they will have let slip through their fingers a real chance to help themselves and the country.
So what if they have to share the credit with Trump? Clinton and Gingrich both claimed credit for balancing the budget, and the country was better off for it.
To be sure, Trump will not be bought off by meaningless gestures regarding the wall. But if Pelosi and Schumer decide to play a smarter game than they thus far have, they will strengthen themselves for future negotiations with Trump, and at the same time will have tamped down some of the more radical elements nipping at their heels. Seems to be a win for them and for Trump.
Bob Barr represented Georgia in the U.S. House of Representatives from 1995 to 2003. He currently serves as president and CEO of the Law Enforcement Education Foundation.