Trump Has No Endgame

Stop stressing yourself trying to anticipate the masterstroke in his nefarious plan.


Both in the mainstream media and among my social-media friends, I see people who ought to know better switching back and forth between two divergent and contradictory images of Donald Trump: the Magical Thinker and the Master Planner. Recognizing that the president is a magical thinker makes them despair over how our country will deal with the current crisis. But at the same time they have nightmares about the master planner who will find a cunning way to stay in power.

In everything else, Trump is the Dunning-Kruger poster child. But when the subject changes to the election, or to everything that happens between the election and the inauguration of a new president, they suddenly see him as the genius he claims to be. An evil genius, perhaps — a Lex Luthor or a Victor von Doom — but a genius all the same.

Magical Thinker. When we’re talking about practical governing or attempting to solve the problems of the nation, it seems obvious that Trump indulges in magical thinking: He believes he can make the world be what he wants it to be just by insisting that it already is. What he wants to happen will happen, because he says so: The virus will go away “like a miracle”. It’s no worse than the ordinary flu. Anybody who wants a test gets a test. We lead the world in testing. There is no shortage of PPE for hospital workers. The country is ready to reopen, and when it does, the economy will come zooming back. Everyone should be grateful to him for the great job he’s been doing.

His magical thinking is made even worse by his childlike inability to consider the future. His entire focus is on looking good right now, even if it will hurt him in the long run. During February and early March, for example, his happy talk about the virus seemed to be aimed at keeping the stock market high, because that was the core of his re-election pitch: The market is high, unemployment is low; I promised a great economy and I delivered.

There was never any chance he could keep that scam going until November, but it didn’t seem to matter to him. If the market stayed high today, that gave him a talking point today, and improved his poll numbers today. November was November’s problem.

His daily coronavirus briefings (which he continued until wiser heads made him stop) were full of short-term image-building that could never hold up over time. The hospitals have plenty of masks and ventilators, no matter what they say. And Trump is a genius who has genius ideas nobody else thinks of: Hydroxychloroquine is a miracle drug. Bleach can kill virus inside the body.

It’s obvious now that it was always in Trump’s best interest to do a good job fighting the virus. Imagine if he had sounded the alarm early and started emergency preparations back in January and February (as the disease experts inside the government were pleading for him to do). The death total would be lower by tens of thousands and the economy really might be in a position to reopen. What if the US anti-virus efforts were one of the world’s success stories rather than the cautionary tale of neglect and incompetence it is now?

He could have benefited from the we’re-all-in-this-together wave that has boosted the approval numbers of Democratic and Republican governors alike, even in the states that have the highest death totals. If he had met the crisis head-on and given the American people straight talk combined with the steady reassurance of realistic hope (like Andrew Cuomo did in New York), Covid-19 might have been the tailwind that pushed an otherwise unpopular president across the finish line to re-election.

But that strategy would have required a months-long time horizon, which he doesn’t have. He’d have needed to sacrifice the immediate satisfaction of bragging about how wonderful he is and what a perfect economy he has made. He just couldn’t do it.

He still can’t. With another month or so of lockdown, combined with a well-funded, well-organized national test-and-trace program and some realistic guidelines for gradual reopening, the worst of the crisis might yet be in the rear-view mirror by Election Day. But pushing the states to relax restrictions while the virus is still spreading is the same short-term magical thinking all over again. It feels good right now to tell upbeat stories about restaurants and barber shops reopening, and to imagine schools and baseball stadiums opening soon. But how will that look in the fall, when people start voting?

By November, another few weeks of boredom and struggle in May and June would be long forgotten. But a pandemic that in November is still killing thousands of Americans (but not thousands of Germans or Koreans or Canadians) every week will be hard to wish away.

Master Planner. When it comes to politics, though, many people who otherwise see Trump’s cognitive, intellectual, and psychological shortcomings imagine the existence of a Master Plan that ultimately makes it all work in his favor. If he seems to be charging towards a cliff, that can only mean that he has a parachute, or that a military helicopter is waiting to pluck him out of the air.

I mean, he couldn’t just be stupid or delusional, could he? He couldn’t possibly imagine that the cliff will go away because he wants it to, or that he will sprout wings and fly when he gets there? That would be as crazy as … well, all the other stuff he’s done.

But from this point of view, he’s not blundering his way through the virus fight; he wants the virus to be raging in November so that he can use it to suppress the vote. Or maybe he plans to declare martial law and cancel the election. Even if he loses the election, he must have a plan for that too.

Heather Cox Richardson, who usually strikes me as very level-headed, sees an ominous portent in Trump’s “ObamaGate” maneuvers.

It suggests that the Trump administration really is contemplating legal action against F.B.I. officials who were investigating the attack on the 2016 election. This is unprecedented. More, though, it suggests that the Trump administration does not anticipate a Democratic presidency following this one, since it could expect any precedent it now sets to be used against its own people. That it is willing to weaponize intelligence information from a previous administration suggests it is not concerned that the next administration will weaponize intelligence information against Trump officials. That confidence concerns me.

Gee. Inventing a talking point that helps him today creates a scenario where it all backfires somewhere down the road. Who could imagine Trump doing such a thing?

Apply the model of Trump that we see validated every day in every other part of his administration: He doesn’t “anticipate a Democratic presidency” because he doesn’t anticipate anything. Imagine being a Trump aide and raising the question “What are we going to do if Biden beats you?” Do you think you’d get an answer? Would you expect him to tell you to assemble a team and construct a Biden-beats-me contingency plan? Or would he just take your head off and replace you with somebody who doesn’t ask questions like that?

We need a plan even if he doesn’t have one. Trump never looks ahead, but once he gets into a bad situation he looks around. He isn’t bound by moral scruples or political norms or even the law. All options are on the table.

So I expect him to keep denying his poor prospects for re-election until at least mid-October. In the same way that Hitler in 1945 kept promising “miracle weapons” — like the V-2 rocket or jet fighter planes — that would turn the war around, Trump will always have some reason to project success: a last-minute vaccine announcement, a surprise uptick in the economy (or maybe just forcing the Labor Department to publish fake numbers), war with Iran, or a final ad blitz that will destroy Biden once and for all.

As the election approaches, though, it will eventually dawn on him that he’s really losing. As in the Reagan/Carter race of 1980, the voters who make up their minds at the last minute will ask themselves whether this president deserves another term, and they’ll say no. At that point — and not a second before — he will ask, “How can I stop this?” How can I stop people from voting? How can I discredit the vote count? How can I steal votes in the Electoral College? Can the Senate or the Supreme Court declare me the winner even though I lost? Can I just refuse to leave?

At that point, he’ll thrash like a fish in a net. But whatever he does won’t be well prepared or well planned. A military coup is a bit more complicated than just calling the Pentagon and ordering them to keep you in power. Politicians and bureaucrats and judges who cooperated with you when you seemed invincible may decide they don’t want to go to jail for you now that you’re on your way out. And those bands of overweight yahoos with AR-15s may be willing to get violent on his say-so, but who will they shoot and what will they accomplish? All that would require a plan, and there is no plan.

Democrats should not get complacent going down the stretch, because at the last minute Trump will be ready to try anything. But he won’t suddenly become a master strategist.

He’ll thrash and he’ll bluster and he’ll try crazy things. But like most things he tries, they won’t be well thought out. And like most things he tries, they won’t work.

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Comments

  • wcroth55  On May 18, 2020 at 11:28 am

    Even though Trump doesn’t anticipate… we can still try to anticipate HIM. (Yes, I know that sounds crazy… but bear with me for a moment.)

    It’s (say) two days before the election. He finally realizes he’s going to lose. So he declares a national emergency, and calls out the National Guard to “protect” all polling locations from “interference”. Imagine what this does to (say) minority turn-out when we see national guards standing outside polling places with weapons.

    (Of course, if we’re all voting absentee ballot by then, it might not matter…)

    • George Washington, Jr.  On May 18, 2020 at 12:53 pm

      The President can’t call out the National Guard; only the state governors can. Some of them might try that, but not all, certainly, the ones who realize that they will still be around after Trump’s gone.

      • wcroth55  On May 18, 2020 at 1:25 pm

        Alas, incorrect. The President can “federalize” the National Guard. See https://science.howstuffworks.com/national-guard.htm

      • George Washington, Jr.  On May 18, 2020 at 1:38 pm

        That’s all well and good for a disaster response, however, I could see a governor resisting the president’s order to federalize his state’s National Guard for the “emergency” of guarding polling places. Since the states run their own elections, a governor could say “thanks but no thanks” and order the Guard to stand down, requiring the President to file a lawsuit. The only question is whether the hacks on the Supreme Court would be willing to turn the country into a banana republic or not or whether this could be done in time.

      • wcroth55  On May 18, 2020 at 2:19 pm

        Agreed. My point is more along the lines of encouraging the governors to anticipate this kind of possibility.

  • susanchambless  On May 18, 2020 at 11:35 am

    There’s a long time between November and January for his vindictive side to wreak havoc.

  • Thomas Contolini  On May 18, 2020 at 12:01 pm

    “Trump is the Dunning-Kruger poster child.” haha He’s been called a lot of things, but that is perfect. Thank you sir.

  • Guest  On May 18, 2020 at 12:29 pm

    To Richardson’s point about the administration not anticipating a Democratic presidency, it may be more that they are not anticipating Democrats doing anything with the precedent even if they do win. It’s not that crazy a thought. Obama let the Bush & Cheney gang off the hook. Dems couldn’t manage a united impeachment vote against Trump. To the extent that is doesn’t make political sense to promote such a precedent, any Democrat would be rightly hesitant to pursue it on those grounds.

    Trump has never been a master planner, but the Cambridge Analytica folks aren’t complete dummies and the more aggressive approach to polling data combined with his media savvy was enough to pick off not just all Republican challengers but the most powerful and connected political machine in DC. In other words, he’s already proven the ability to win the White House without himself being some planning mastermind. It was reported a few weeks back that Biden is leading Trump in key polls, but by less a margin than Clinton was at a comparable time. Because Sanders pulled punches against Biden like he did for Clinton, seeing Trump once again outperform mainstream polling is a distinct possibility. I agree, Doug, that Trump is a magical thinker, but have no idea what will happen in November.

  • Kat  On May 18, 2020 at 12:39 pm

    It is not trump I am worried about – because I agree with your assessment of his capabilities – and lack thereof.
    It is the power-at-all-costs Republicans who are allowing him to get away with this monkey show. The callous disregard for law and precedents is what distresses me in the small hours of the night…

  • Dwight Porter  On May 18, 2020 at 12:43 pm

    The elephant missing from this room is the GOP and the 0.1% it serves. The latter, I suspect, would be happier with the pliant Biden. But Trump has served them so well, and he so craves their love and respect, that while there are still future tax receipts to covet, they may decide to buy him another ride. We shouldn’t underestimate their power over public opinion and, for all we know, the election process itself, not to mention the Supreme Court. Nor should we underestimate the world’s most successful narcissist. As you point out, he refuses to acknowledge setbacks and always trusts himself –rightly, it appears– to “come up with something” whenever circumstances threaten him. So far, though he may not always have succeeded in his pursuits, he has always managed to get away with everything, paying no price for his missteps, failures, abuses, and crimes. His trick is to seize the initiative any way he can, and it has always worked. How about a war with China? Or even Canada? — (This is my first comment, btw, and I’d like to thank you for your excellent work –I actually look forward to Mondays now!),

    • weeklysift  On May 18, 2020 at 2:06 pm

      Looking forward to Monday is a pretty powerful compliment. Thanks.

  • Anonymous Poster  On May 18, 2020 at 12:44 pm

    Don’t anticipate Trump, who has no plan. Anticipate the GOP, whose plans Trump will approve without hesitation.

  • George Washington, Jr.  On May 18, 2020 at 1:00 pm

    All the worry about Trump cancelling the election is misplaced. First, the federal government has very little power to cancel elections; the state governors and legislatures are the only ones who can do that. Also, unless he’s reelected, Trump’s term (and Pence’s) runs out at noon on January 20, 2021, at which point he will become a high-profile trespasser in the White House and be summarily removed by the Secret Service, whether a new president was elected or not.

    With no election, there won’t be any House members, although there’s some question as to whether Nancy Pelosi would remain Speaker, as there’s no requirement that the Speaker be a Congress member. Otherwise, the only government would be the 66 Senators whose terms hadn’t run out yet. Democrats will have a majority in that group, and would elect one of their own to serve as President Pro Tempore, who would then become the new president.

    • Guest  On May 18, 2020 at 4:29 pm

      Interesting points, George, thank you. Although, if the race is shaping up to be as close as it was last time, Trump wouldn’t need to cancel the election for *everyone* to be successful. A few well-placed voter suppression efforts could do the trick, and it’s clear that many states at the governor/legislature level would oblige. The pandemic would simply provide extra cover.

      • George Washington, Jr.  On May 18, 2020 at 6:26 pm

        I don’t think the race will be that close, for several reasons.

        The Bernie bros who weren’t going to vote for a woman, won’t have that conflict.
        The people who stayed home “because Trump can’t possibly win” have had it demonstrated to them that he can, indeed, win.
        People who voted for Trump because he was “different” may switch to Biden.
        Trump hasn’t accomplished his primary goal of building a wall, and blew up the deficit.
        We will surely be in a recession by November if not a full-blown depression, and the incumbent will be blamed.
        Biden will have a much better strategy than Clinton. He’s also more likeable.
        More people are motivated to vote against Trump than last time.
        A COVID-19 resurgence might make older voters less likely to vote, and in red states (that are less supportive of vote by mail), this could be devastating for Republicans.

        If the election were held today, Biden would have 270 electoral votes just with the states where he has a lead of 5% or more, which is outside the margin of error. To win, Trump would need not only the states where he’s leading, but every single one where he and Biden are essentially tied. This includes Texas where the two are in a dead heat. Of course, anything can happen between now and November, but I’m cautiously hopeful.

  • Allen T Coffey  On May 18, 2020 at 3:55 pm

    Exactly.

  • John Atherton  On May 18, 2020 at 5:29 pm

    That is not true, Doug. Trump DOES have an endgame, it is to get re-elected and continue to re-shape the nation in his own corrupt image.

  • J. Blevins  On May 18, 2020 at 6:29 pm

    However competent Trump may be, or not be, my concerns lie with the 1%’ers and the 40% of the Republican populace that still supports him, and who are willing and able to fund and support all kinds of disruptive efforts in order to maintain access to the rewards Trump has made available to them.

  • SamuraiArtGuy  On May 18, 2020 at 11:13 pm

    As an ex-pat New Yorker, and Trumps ALWAYS been THAT FUKEN GUY… he does not strike me as a genius, stable or otherwise. Four bankruptcies and three wives suggests that he straight has always made it up as he goes along. His persona as a successful businessman is a reality show myth – but he may be the most successful con man in American history.

    He’s not a mastermind, but with sociopathic tendencies, and clearly not a shred of ethics, empathy or moral compass, his ability to manipulate crowds and the media is more of an insane talent, an idiot savant ability, utterly divorced from intelligence. But his freedom of ethical concerns and thruthfullness places his more humanly decent adversaries at a disadvantage.

    I keep bringing this article, by David Roberts at Voz, as it is such a perceptive grasp of Trumps psyche.

    “He treats all social interactions as zero-sum games establishing dominance and submission. In every interaction, someone is going to win and someone is going to lose, be with Trump or against him.”

    And later mentions,

    “Social and moral norms regarding honesty mostly have to do with the semantic form of communication. One’s words are supposed to correspond with, or at least not mislead about, the facts as one understands them. But Trump simply doesn’t view what he’s engaged in as an exercise in articulating and defending beliefs about factual states of affairs. He is as blind to that function of communication as human eyes are to infrared light.

    “What he’s doing is trying to establish dominance — to win, in his words. That’s what he uses words for. That’s how he sees every interaction in which he is involved. He is attuned only to what the words are doing, whether they are winning or losing, not to what they mean.”

    And there’s this –

    “It helps explain why Trump has such a long and rich history of defrauding investors, refusing to pay contractors, using his charitable foundation as a piggybank, and declaring bankruptcy to escape debt. Contracts and promises are just plays in the game, not words that carry meanings or create obligations. You sign them or say them when you need to, to win whatever negotiation you are in, and then they are gone like smoke.”

    And this, damn near a money shot…

    “…He’s a bullshitter who doesn’t know he’s bullshitting, because he doesn’t know that there’s any other way to communicate.

    “And that is the scariest thing about him. Leaders who lie at least have real beliefs that can be uncovered and used to predict their behavior. People who simply do not have beliefs as such are impossible to predict and easy to manipulate. They are unable to make credible commitments, build trust, or pursue opportunities for mutual benefit.”

    — David Roberts, Vox

    The question of what Donald Trump “really believes” has no answer

    Gods help us all when s**t starts to get REAL in October. I expect we are in for the ugliest, nastiest, most polarized election in living memory. With unimaginable chicanery, raatf**king, voter suppression, and every dirty trick in the book from the GOP… and they’ll invent NEW ones.

    The Democrats, and grumpy independents like myself, best be ON POINT.

    • George Washington, Jr.  On May 19, 2020 at 7:35 am

      I disagree with your assertion that Donald Trump has no core beliefs. Throughout his life, he has held two unchanging positions – that women exist for no purpose other than his pleasure, and brown people are subhuman. I believe he holds these views to such an extent that he would even go so far as to put himself at a disadvantage rather than betray them.

  • Luke Swartz  On May 18, 2020 at 11:27 pm

    Thanks for yet another great post, Doug—I agree almost completely, but I think you’re missing an important point: There’s still a chance that Trump can win in November. After all, most of the factors that helped him in 2016 (the composition of the Electoral College, voter suppression, Russian interference, GOP leaders’ compliance/complicity, etc) are still present.

    …moreover, the one place where Trump legitimately is a “genius” is in playing the media, and by extension his base. He knows how to rile people up, and how to coax “mainstream” outlets into “both-siderism”. Most importantly, he knows the power of fear and blame: it may not matter that hundreds of thousands of Americans are dead because of his incompetence as long as his base blames someone else (China, Obama, Democratic governors, the “deep state”, take your pick).

    I agree with you that this is far from a “Master Plan,” but is is a strategy (of sorts), and it’s sadly one that has a chance of winning.

    • Guest  On May 19, 2020 at 11:52 am

      Strongly agreed, Luke, thank you. Trump’s 90%+ approval rating among Republicans would seem to support your stance. The “he’s too much of a stupid, narcissist, magical thinker to actually win” pose certainly didn’t prevail last time.

      Your point about his genius for media and riling up the base is key, and apparently still overlooked. It also makes for a contrast with Democratic leadership, who are able to mostly control media messaging/framing within the context of their own primaries, but have proven largely impotent in a general election against Trump. The Christian right were thrown meaningful bones with the Pence nod and supreme court picks, while the rest of the base lapped up wall and border policy. Compare that with a Democratic leadership that takes the opposite tack and goes out of its way to ignore and antagonize the left base. I’d feel a lot better about our chances if the Dems evolved on this. Picking an honest to goodness progressive as VP (Nina Turner would be amazing for Bernie fans) and making a convincing pivot toward not just adopting but actively pushing for, say M4A, would be a refreshing change of pace. I’m not holding my breath for it, but not despairing either because I have no idea which way the election will break. Maybe this time will be different.

  • Neal S  On May 19, 2020 at 12:22 pm

    > If he seems to be charging towards a cliff, that can only mean that he has a parachute, or that a military helicopter is waiting to pluck him out of the air.

    What if that helicopter is from a foreign nation?

  • ccyager  On May 19, 2020 at 4:54 pm

    The reason I worry about Trump is not because I think he has a master plan. It’s because I think there are people behind him that have the master plan. Like Stephen Miller. Like Mitch McConnell. Like Vladimir Putin — please see the article in the June The Atlantic entitled “The 2016 Election was just a dry run” (print edition) or at https://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2020/06/putin-american-democracy/610570/. I don’t think Trump has the smarts — he’s a showman, an entertainer, and a master deflector who can preoccupy the media and nation with his latest idiocy while McConnell works his magic in the Senate or Stephen Miller marshalls his forces. What’s really scary is that Trump’s insistence that no one investigate the Russian election meddling means that Russia can do it again. I’ve gotten very critical of every post I see on Facebook or Twitter, and I’ll probably stay away from both more and more until after the election. I’m sending in my application for an absentee ballot this week!

  • nicknielsensc  On May 19, 2020 at 9:45 pm

    If trump is a master of anything, it’s baiting his opponents. (Yes. That’s right. He’s a Master Baiter.) He’s using that ability to keep us distracted while McConnell and Barr dismantle the U.S. justice system by installing originalist (read: activist) judges and using the DoJ to attack trump’s enemies and the EPA and OSHA eliminate any and all rules that might protect those annoying people who don’t have money.

  • coastcontact  On May 19, 2020 at 9:57 pm

    While I do not favor Donald Trump you all have to be looking at Joe Biden. Unfortunately Biden has not offered any vision for the future. HIs entire campaign has been about returning the past. He spoke of getting long with segregationists. He opposed integration of schools by force busing. He supported Clarence Thomas for the Supreme Court. The Democratic Party has been the party of sweet words and broken promises. The November election will be about Donald Trump. Anyone but Trump is not a path to victory.

    • Guest  On May 20, 2020 at 10:46 am

      On point as always, coast. Biden’s record makes him a posterboy for Democratic centrists. Comfortable with segregation and Clarence Thomas as you say, but also an Iraq War cheerleader who boasted that he wrote the Patriot Act, a big Drug War believer, battled against gay civil rights for decades, there’s the Bankruptcy bill, his threat to veto M4A if it reaches his desk, and, perhaps most important, the constant stream of corporate and special interest money going into his pockets, to his family, to his campaign. For the big money that runs DC and the professional/upper class folks who can pick up some of the spoils, Trump v Biden is a win win. For the left it’s another in a series of stab me-shoot me choices.

      Anyone but Trump certainly didn’t work last time. Heck, it seems Anyone but the Republican hasn’t worked in 40 years at least, and yet the DNC persists. Looking at the two winners, Bill Clinton got an assist from Ross Perot and Obama had a PR-award-winning campaign that credibly offered a vision of the future around hope and change. That vision turned out to be hollow as he ran the country as a centrist, but it was credible enough in 2008 that I fell for it (I wasn’t watching the money or the appointments). The internet has broken the legacy media bubble, at least for the under 45 crowd, so I see it as incredibly difficult for the wool to get pulled over our eyes like that again, making an uphill battle for Biden and other centrists.

      What can we do? Everything we can to drag the centrists kicking and screaming into a forward looking vision. Organize the left (independently minded and attracted as we are to certain causes we have a tendency to fragment/silo), organize labor, vote for Bernie Sanders if you have an upcoming primary to give the left more leverage at the convention. All that said, in terms of November, maybe it won’t matter. We have a pandemic and the threat of a deep recession/depression, those are big wildcards. Anyone but Trump crashed and burned in 2016, but who knows, maybe it ekes out a victory in a wild 2020. Famous last words, but maybe this time really is different.

      • wcroth55  On May 20, 2020 at 11:01 am

        I have plenty of disagreements with Obama. But remember that he had (really) less than 1.5 years with a Democratic Senate, and used most of that ‘capital’ to get the ACA. Hardly fair to criticize him as a ‘centrist’, when he had to play the hand he was dealt.

        I’m also no fan of Biden, but his attitudes HAVE moved over the years. (Remember the wonderful gaffe on marriage equality?) When the center moves, the centrists move along with it.

      • Guest  On May 20, 2020 at 2:41 pm

        Glad you brought up those 1.5 years, wcroth. In John Nichols’ recent appearance on “Weekends with Ana Kasparian and Michael Brooks” he notes the importance of the left hitting the ground running and pushing through meaningful policies in the first year of power, lest they face backlash in the midterms. Obama was exhibit A of the dynamic.

        I didn’t mean to criticize Obama with “centrist”, it was merely meant to be descriptive. I thought I was being fair, as in any other leading industrial nation he’d actually be right of center. Took the public option off the table immediately after being elected and pushed legislation literally written by and for the lobbyists, continued and expanded US interventions, the War on Terror, and surveillance state, took a hard line against whistleblowers, campaigned against gay civil rights, kept the war on drugs going strong, left prison reform and the student loan crisis alone, pushed a GFC bailout catered to Wall St rather than Main St, huge arms deals to Saudi Arabia, acknowledged climate change but pushed for baby steps not at all equal to the problem, et al. It wasn’t all bad, there were bright spots too, like Sotomayor. But taken together, does the centrist label still seem unfair?

        In any case, the point wasn’t to criticize Obama, but to underline that he was the only centrist/neoliberal Dem to take back the White House in 40 years without the help of a strong 3rd party candidate, and he did it by credibly campaigning as an anti-war outsider agent of hope and change (even though he governed as a pro-war insider agent of lobbyists). That tack wasn’t picked up by Clinton, and Biden is posed to repeat her strategy on that front. My hope is we can push Biden to the left in a way we failed to do with Clinton.

        Have to push back on “When the center moves, the centrists move along with it.” There are many important issues on which the American public agrees but on which the centrists haven’t budged. The dynamic seems to be more that if the center moves AND the big money lobby special interests groups give the thumbs up, only then is the centrist allowed a come to Jesus moment.

      • wcroth55  On May 20, 2020 at 3:18 pm

        Many valid points there. (The whistleblower thing always bothered me.)

        But you conflate “what happened” with “what Obama wanted to have happen”. Neither of us can read minds. Did he “take the public option off the table?” Yes. But why? There’s a very strong argument that he knew it would NEVER pass, even in the short period when the Dems theoretically controlled the Senate. Note how the ACA barely squeaked through, even with some last minute slightly-dubious legal maneuvers.

        Totally agree that we must do what we can to push left-wards. (I was heavily involved in the successful anti-gerrymandering effort in Michigan; I continue to volunteer, building software infrastructure for a variety of leftward causes.)

        Agree it is important to compare initial rhetoric with actual results. But I think we must always remember the “sausage-making” that goes on to make those results happen. The places where the President has sole authority (e.g. SCOTUS nominations) are the easiest to distinguish.

      • Guest  On May 21, 2020 at 11:46 am

        First, thank you for your service in an important state! Anti-gerrymandering is about as nakedly democratic as you can get, congrats on your success.

        I wonder if you noticed that after you rightly note that neither of us can read minds, you jump into an argument about what Obama knew, ie his thought process, as a sort of apologia for what ended up happening with the ACA.

        It wasn’t my intention to conflate what happened with what Obama wanted, as I’m only interested in what happened. Whether or not he was personally conflicted over, say, actively cracking down on whistleblowers/expanding the surveillance state/increasing drone attacks/etc, is fairly irrelevant to the lived experience of people under the policy course he ended up taking, at least in my personal view. So, privately he could have identified as Marxist or Neocon or Libertarian in his thinking, but regardless we have to live with the policies, wishing/hoping/sausage-making aside. So, it is on the policies implemented that I label his administration as centrist (or right of center in an international context).

        Most of the issues specifically mentioned could have been impacted solely through the executive order or authority, so the excuse that he only had 1.5 years of a Democratic senate is not really compelling. But it does go back to the John Nichols point that Dem presidential hopefuls in a general do well credibly campaigning from a forward looking (ie progressive) vision, and that once in power, the best way to protect that power is to deliver the left-populist goods in the first year lest you risk losing ground in the congress. Biden, like Clinton, Kerry, and Gore before him, isn’t remotely there yet, so it’s on us to push him there.

    • George Washington, Jr.  On May 21, 2020 at 12:17 pm

      Biden has shown an ability to take in new information and change his mind. Is he a progressive? Of course not. But is he more open to progressive arguments than Donald Trump? I would say he is, and is the better choice on those grounds alone.

      And while “anyone but the Republican” hasn’t been a great strategy, neither has “anyone but the Democrat” as Bob Dole, John McCain, and Mitt Romney learned. However, I think this year will be different. Lacking an inspiring vision, and facing an opponent for whom people feel an unusual level of visceral hatred, Biden may very well coast to victory based on his image as a generically inoffensive Democrat and “I’m not Donald Trump.”

      In fact, that may be a winning strategy. Biden’s popularity is growing even with him hunkered down in his basement and Trump on TV every day. The less people see of Biden, the more they seem to like him.

  • Kenneth  On May 20, 2020 at 4:14 pm

    Along with many other commenters, it’s not Trump’s (nonexistent) endgame that I’m worried about, it’s what his enablers and various political vermin will do amidst the chaos he creates.

    • Neal S  On May 20, 2020 at 4:26 pm

      I’m not letting go of the foreign angle, which is simply to sow discord and mistrust of everything. I mean, you’re looking at Trump as a pawn of domestic forces of evil. But he’s also an international dupe, biggly.

  • ecjspokane  On May 20, 2020 at 10:23 pm

    For those of your commenters that think Trump is either a master planner
    or a magical thinker, I suggest they get into the real world. Trump is
    totally incapable of being either due to his upbringing. He’s had “I
    can never lose nor be wrong in anything” drummed into his little head
    from the age of eight onward and that has made him a megalomaniac
    incompetent.

    His only talent has been finding people who worship his money and have
    enough talent to make his ideas happen no matter how badly he does
    personally. And that happens to be a very useful talent.

    It’s too bad the the whole nation can’t be made to see what he really is
    and how totally dangerous he is to preserving the republic from of
    representative democracy we have had set up for us in the Constitution.
    It wasn’t perfect nor prescient but it works if we all agree and work
    together to preserve it.

    Take care and thank you very much for the thoughtfully researched
    commentaries.

    Eric C Johnson
    Spokane WA

  • frankackerman0617  On May 21, 2020 at 2:20 pm

    Trump, Trump, Trump! Yes, he and his Senate, and especially his administration, are possibly a long term threat to American democracy, and an immediate threat to world peace and prosperity. And yes, we should forget about November probabilities and focus on getting as many no-Trump votes as possible. This week’s feature is useful in that it makes a good case for not letting our energy be sucked away by possibilities, but it plays directly into Trump’s tactic (whether mindful or not) of focusing the whole US media universe on himself.

    But whether he wins or loses in November we still have the foundational problem of a severely crippled democracy. November’s result will have a major effect on how we will need to deal with this problem, but we need to start considering plans for each of the possible results instead of constantly wasting energy on Trump.

  • Lisa Misemer  On May 26, 2020 at 2:55 pm

    “Trump has no Endgame,” was music to my ears. Yes, I can be prone to a bit of paranoia, and you answered my call. But Trump appears to be a machiavellian master with his relentless propaganda machine. He has a grasp of the division and rot that undermines how Americans come to perceive, and the channels that are available for manipulation. He reads the conditions well, as is evidenced by this exploitation and in his belief that truth will never be accessed by many. And he is emboldened by the Rethuglicans! I never thought he was a genius, but he appears to be a puppet of Putin’s, exploiting every opportunity at home and abroad to lend his ear in secrecy to one who is a successful Dictator*. And the Rethugs are blinded to everything else, except the shining coin. I WISH YOU WOULD OPINE on issues surrounding this (I missed it if you have.) If we are sounding a bit shrill lately, perhaps it is due to the warping of the Justice Dept. and war on Inspector Generals . Flynn’s record, along with many more head scratching realities, is evidence of something bigger there. We learned enough through the Mueller and news reports (the oval office meeting, and secret rendezvous’) The ARRAY of foreign actors, even a double agent, who appeared with Trump’s inception, seemingly out of nowhere, with surprising connections has been troubling all along. His “Sleight of Hand” maneuvers, gestures of hypocrisy, and malfeasance, and general corruption are obvious to well over a majority of Americans. It is the architecture that surrounds his presidency that is troubling.

    Thanks so much for your exhaustive sourcing, your weekly is both a history, civics, and cultural lesson! I feel so fortunate that a friend turned me onto your posts!

    *In contrast to the U.S., it may have been fairly easy for Putin to highjack his country, as Russia has had a precedent in autocratic leaders. No doubt, they did not have the constitutional or judicial protections that our democratic framework provides and this is my last ray of hope.

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