That’s how one “top Republican Hill aide,” described the chaotic situation in Washington after Donald Trump decided to keep his famous Sharpie holstered in the days leading up to Christmas, rather than signing off on a long-sought virus relief package that would have delivered incremental aid to American families and businesses.
I say “incremental” not to trivialize the impact of the provisions included in the bill. Rather, I use “incremental” to underscore the fact that the package of measures Congress finally managed to pass after five months of senseless wrangling will likely prove wholly inadequate to address the scope of the problem.
And that speaks to why the quandary America found itself in on Christmas was so vexing. Congress is clearly guilty of abrogating its responsibilities. I’d call it gross negligence. Indeed, I’ve argued repeatedly that the gridlock Americans expect inside the Beltway has calcified into something like total paralysis. If accurate, that means the country has no functioning legislature.
Seen in that light, Trump’s demand for $2,000 checks (versus the $600 direct payments included in the stimulus bill) could help bridge the gap between “incremental” and “material,” were it possible to suggest that a notoriously mercurial reality TV star was motived purely by a sense of altruism.
But that’s wholly implausible. Not even America’s most revered presidents thought solely in altruistic terms, let alone Trump.
“Trump’s main goal, said those close to the president and White House, is to grab attention and send a message to his base that he’s more supportive of Americans than Congress as he plots a run for reelection in 2024,” Politico wrote, in the piece that features the quote used here at the outset.
The GOP rank-and-file felt betrayed. They said as much on a party conference call. “Trump still has several days to sign or veto the bill, which passed by wide enough margins that Congress could override his veto unless dozens of Republicans change their vote to avoid crossing the president,” Bloomberg noted. The full bill was flown to Mar-a-Lago, where Trump is vacationing.
One former White House aide who spoke to Politico ludicrously insisted that Trump is “on the [right] side of history and the side of the American people.” Neither of those two claims are any semblance of true.
Trump has, of course, advocated for larger direct payments to individuals, but the impact of those payments on struggling households is, at best, a secondary concern for the outgoing president. The notion of sending voters physical checks bearing his actual signature is highly appealing for a man of Trump’s various predilections, and unlike some checks signed by Trump the businessman, all of the checks signed by Trump the president will clear.
Essentially, Trump’s Tuesday evening demand for larger stimulus payments was an attempt to buy votes in the 2024 election.
Still, households would welcome the money, and Congress was mercilessly maligned in some corners of social media for taking a “let them eat cake” approach with the size of the checks. Trump is just capitalizing on legislative ineptitude to reinforce whatever’s left of his populist bonafides.
Speaking to CNBC, Politico’s Chief Economic Correspondent Ben White said that although Senate Republicans “traditionally don’t love to block things the president wants or to reject him in any significant way… this could be different, because Republicans really want this signed and done with, and, as we know, Trump is a lame duck president.”
In the 48 hours after Trump demanded Congress increase the size of stimulus checks and revisit foreign aid, lawmakers on both sides of the aisle urged him to sign the bill. He was seen relenting. In addition to forcing another government shutdown, vetoing the legislation would chance undermining vaccine rollout. Trump would presumably be loath to torpedo the distribution effort, as that would risk undermining one of the few accomplishments he can claim for his presidency outside of the tax cuts and Supreme Court nominees.
But Trump isn’t just any lame duck. And it’s not just random House GOPers with a penchant for controversy that still blindly support him. Lindsey Graham, for instance, suggested he wouldn’t vote to override Trump’s veto of the defense bill unless Congress gave Trump what he wanted in return — namely, a repeal of a key legal shield for the social media platforms which have rebuked his unfounded claims of election fraud.
The inescapable bottom line is that the GOP fears Trump. His success at eroding the checks and balances that protect America’s democracy from a would-be autocrat quite clearly suggests that a second term could bring the country even closer to authoritarian rule. Some Republicans, perhaps because they’ve heard Trump say things Democrats haven’t, seem to see the writing on the wall. And they aren’t keen to be on the “wrong” side should Trump return to power.
Indeed, I’d argue the GOP worries that Trump’s base would blindly follow Don Jr. or Ivanka out of allegiance to their father. That, along with the persistence of the socioeconomic factors which helped put Trump in the Oval Office, means the “MAGA” brand isn’t likely to go gentle into that good night.
In a Christmas Eve tweet, Trump effectively promised retribution on the GOP for the party’s reluctance to overturn the election results.
“I saved at least 8 Republican Senators, including Mitch, from losing in the last Rigged (for President) Election,” he said. “Now they (almost all) sit back and watch me fight against a crooked and vicious foe, the Radical Left Democrats. I will NEVER FORGET!”