Trump, in his final days, goes full King Lear
To all those who would divine in the president's floundering a grand strategy, or even a small one, let me offer some caution: If you go rummaging around in Trump's brain right now, you're going to emerge empty-handed.
He labeled it a "disgrace" — the covid-relief package his treasury secretary negotiated, in part because it was paired with spending items that Trump himself had proposed. After threatening the nation with a government shutdown, he signed the bill anyway.
He vetoed a crucial $741 billion defense bill that provides funding for military programs and gives the troops a pay raise — because of a personal beef he's having with Twitter and Facebook and because he wants to keep the names of Confederate generals on military bases. On Monday, the House overrode the veto by an overwhelming 322 to 87.
He pardoned lawbreaking cronies and, according to President-elect Joe Biden, the "political leadership" of Trump's team has blocked the incoming administration from learning about foreign threats, a vulnerability "our adversaries may try to exploit."
Trump continues his quixotic and lonely bid to overturn the results of the election he lost. He's now lashing out at Republican leaders who have finally opted to follow the constitutional order rather than continuing to indulge his clownish attempt at a coup.
Even the Murdoch-owned New York Post, which endorsed Trump and ran with Hunter Biden allegations that other outlets could not substantiate, questioned the madness. An editorial in Monday's edition urged Trump to stop "cheering for an undemocratic coup" and avoid being the "King Lear of Mar-a-Lago, ranting about the corruption of the world."
The widely-read morning tip sheet, Politico Playbook, marveled over the "bizarre, embarrassing episode for the president" in which he unsuccessfully threatened the covid-relief bill with "no discernible strategy" to make good on his bellicose statements. "He folded, and got nothing besides a few days of attention and chaos," it concluded.
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Ah, but that is exactly what he wanted. Attention is his lifeblood, and chaos its delivery vehicle. There is no strategy or policy.
Arguably, there never was. But in these final days, we see a defeated president abandoning all things — national security, democratic elections and any pretense of handling the duties of the presidency — as he does anything and everything to keep the spotlight on himself.
In tribute to this late-stage Trumpian lunacy, I'm writing these words wearing my back-ordered T-shirt that just arrived from Four Seasons Total Landscaping in Philadelphia, with the slogan "Make America Rake Again." (My wife has the other version: "Lawn & Order.") After the Trump campaign chose this location (near a porn shop and crematorium) for an election-challenge news conference, millions have posed the same question: Why?
New York magazine's Olivia Nuzzi last week gave us the definitive 5,000-word account. And Nuzzi concludes, more or less, that there was no good explanation. "As one Philadelphia Republican official told me: 'Duuuuuude! … It's the height of idiocy!'" she writes. "It was probably always that simple."
On Monday, the House returned early from its Christmas break to deal with the latest instabilities and idiocies induced by the stable genius.
First, Democrats exploited Trump's last-minute demand for $2,000 checks for Americans by forcing Republicans to vote on exactly that.
"Democrats agree that families deserve more," Ways and Means Committee Chairman Richard Neal (D-Mass.) argued, so their new bill would "increase the payments in the relief package to $2,000, the exact amount the president said he wants."
The ranking Republican, Rep. Kevin Brady (Tex.), was forced in the position of disagreeing publicly with Trump, saying the bill "does nothing to help get people back to work" and amounts to spending "another trillion dollars so hastily." Still, he admitted, "we expect a number of Republicans to support this bill."
Forty-four of them did.
Then, the House took up its override of Trump's pointless veto of the defense bill, which threatened an annual defense authorization for the first time in 59 years.
Rep. Mac Thornberry (Tex.), the top Republican on the Armed Services Committee, said, "I continue to support this bill as more than 80 percent of the House did just 20 days ago." He made it clear, as Biden did earlier in the day, that Trump's madness is jeopardizing national security.
"The president has exercised his constitutional prerogative," Thornberry said. "Now, Madam Speaker, it's up to us. The troops, the country, indeed the world is watching. … Put the best interest of the country first. There is no other consideration that should matter."
On Monday, 109 House Republicans defied Trump and joined the successful veto override — a first for his presidency. Such a public rejection of Trump's position by Republicans would have been unthinkable over the past four years. But as his spotlight-grabbing madness worsens, some Republicans are making their belated reacquaintance with sanity.