The Trump Presidency is collapsing

Markets are imploding, every organization that US President Donald Trump has led is under investigation, his poll ratings are sagging, and Trump’s legislative agenda is set to go nowhere under a divided Congress. Frankly, it looks very bleak for Trump right now.

Exactly a week ago I asked about Trump:

“What does he do if he feels cornered?”

I think we’re beginning to see. And it’s not pretty.

The Shutdown Showdown

I have gone from thinking Trump was on the verge of caving in a shutdown battle to thinking a lot of federal government employees are going to go into Christmas and New Year’s without a salary.

It’s pretty simple, really. Trump was ready to cave on the Wall because he recognized he would get blamed. After all, he did say in a meeting with Democratic Congressional Leaders Nancy Pelosi and Chuck Schumer that he would take responsibility for any shutdown. Pelosi told him he didn’t have the votes. And although he assured her he did, that was just a show of confidence for the cameras. Pelosi was right. And so Trump was ready to sign a stopgap spending bill to keep all government departments funded until February.

But Trump also feels cornered on multiple fronts. And so, when Fox News turned up the heat on him, attacking him rather than singing his praises, he caved. He fears his base will abandon him. And that’s the only thing he has going for hm right now.

Both [Speaker of the House Paul] Ryan and House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) told Trump last week that they could not pass a spending bill with $5 billion for wall construction, and McConnell was told by the White House that Trump would sign a short-term bill without it, according to two people familiar with the conversations.

But on Fox News Channel and across conservative media, there was a brewing rebellion. Prominent voices urged Trump to hold firm on his wall money and warned that caving would jeopardize his reelection.

Rush Limbaugh dismissed the compromise bill on his radio program as “Trump gets nothing and the Democrats get everything.” Another firebrand, Ann Coulter, published a column titled “Gutless President in Wall-less Country.” Trump even found resistance on the couch of his favorite show, “Fox & Friends,” where reliable Trump-boosting host Brian Kilmeade chided him on the air Thursday.

The president was paying attention. He promptly unfollowed Coulter on Twitter. And he pecked out a series of defensive tweets blaming congressional leaders for not funding the wall, while also assuming a defensive posture. He suggested that a massive wall may not be necessary in its entirety because the border already is “tight” thanks to the work of Border Patrol agents and troops.

Some thoughts on the Trump strategy

There is no strategy. Trump is panicked. What he’s doing regarding ‘the Wall’ is pure improvisation, not based on principle, but on his keen sense of self-preservation. He’s running around like a chicken with it’s head cut off, changing decisions from day to day, because he is simply attempting to make good on 2016 campaign promises to keep his base onside. He knows he goes nowhere without the base.

Given Trump’s legal trouble, his allies in Congress have to be anxious. The campaign finance violations in New York state are particularly troublesome because they are state law, where he has less protection. And investigators are sure to uncover more improprieties as they dig deeper into his past.

As I mentioned a week ago:

Republicans have to be anxious regarding the liability Trump represents for the party with voters and who is going to lead them into the 2020 election. The election could be worse for them than 2018 was. This is what the ‘Never Trumpers’ warned about in 2016.

So the following from Axios makes a lot of sense:

lots of different Republicans have been turning on him over different topics.

Why it matters: A former Trump aide who asked to be described as “a Trump ally” told Axios that the sudden wave of criticism from the Hill over Syria and Mattis should scare the president because he would desperately need these lawmakers’ support during a possible impeachment battle.

  • “Once Republican lawmakers start rebuking the president publicly like this over policy, it makes it easier for them to say: ‘It’s not just Mueller or ethics. There are other concerns.’ Then it’s a slippery slope.”

Catch up quick: In an unusually harsh statement, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said he was “distressed” about Mattis’ departure: “It is regrettable that the president must now choose a new Secretary of Defense. But I urge him to select a leader who shares Secretary Mattis’s … principles.”

  • Sen. Ben Sasse (R-Neb.) said after the Mattis announcement: “This is a sad day for America.”

The Afghan and Syria Pullouts

So I am looking at the pullouts from Afghanistan and Syria in this political context, not in strategic terms. I think you could make a good argument on moral grounds that pulling out of Syria is the wrong thing because it leaves Kurdish allies in the region exposed to reprisals from the Turkish Army. But, at a minimum Erdogan is showing restraint (for now), perhaps because of US-Turkey discussions behind the scenes. And there are strong arguments in favour of the US disengaging both in Afghanistan and Syria.

The problem is when it’s happening, how it’s being done and how well prepared US allies are for the moves. I believe Secretary of Defense Mattis resigned not just because he disagrees with the policy, but also because he objects to the haphazard and impulsive way key geo-strategic and military policies were announced on Twitter without any coordination with US military leaders or US allies. It is an extremely reckless way to govern. And there will be huge consequences.

This is the “Trump Unchained” dynamic I have been warning about for months now. It started with the dismissal of Secretary of State Tillerson via Twitter. In 2017, Trump’s most belligerent and unpredictable impulses were held in check. However, in 2018, with Pompeo and Bolton onboard in particular, that was no longer true.

Looking forward into 2019, we can see that Trump now understands the 2018 midterms limits his power in ways he didn’t appreciate at first. And so, we are likely to get a torrent of Executive Orders. And, we will also get unpredictable behavior as he seeks to autocratically force through his agenda, irrespective of what his advisors tell him. The resignation of Mattis and the coming departure of Kelly will leave Trump much more undirected and unpredictable in 2019. It will be absolute chaos in the White House.

That’s what the Afghan and Syria pullouts represent.

So when do the Republicans pull the plug?

I think this can’t go on for long before the Republican Party decides to pull the plug on Trump. The market is tanking, the economy is downshifting and Republican poll numbers are falling as they remain associated with an increasingly unpopular President. Very soon, the 2020 Presidential campaign season will begin. And the attacks on Trump’s Republican allies in Congress will begin. The mantra will be, “they are the Dr. Frankenstein’s who created this monster. They have been enabling him. Don’t just vote Trump out in 2020, vote them out too.

If and when credible charges are made public against Trump, the Republicans will have a chance to dump him and get someone else to run like Nikki Haley.

In the meantime, from an economic and market perspective, this can only increase volatility and increase downside risk. I still see a 2019 recession as unlikely. But that’s very different from saying it won’t happen. It can happen. And ‘Trump Unchained’ makes it much more possible. The biggest risk now is geopolitical: Russia, China, Turkey, and North Korea are all potentially combustible confrontations that remain unresolved for 2019.

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