Why did President Trump shock Republicans and official Washington by abandoning his own Congressional leadership and cutting a debt-ceiling deal with Congressional Democrats? To review, Trump abruptly agreed to a Democratic proposal for a three month debt ceiling extension tied to Harvey relief aid. Democrats were so stunned they tried to go as lo-fi as they could with their victory lap, fearful that any overt celebration would prompt Trump to reconsider. This late Times report confirms that even Trump’s Treasury Secretary, the husband of actress Louise Linton, was caught off guard.
So what’s up with this?
I’ve been a bit distracted by thinking through our next big project at TPM and also a few woodworking projects. So I can’t say that I’m fully up to date and conversant with every possible strategic gambit at play here, every theory, every possible speculated end game. But I think this may be a case where a bit more distance may be illuminating.
Donald Trump’s core drive is dominance. We see that in his politics which is revanchist and destructive and in its less dire manifestations driven by a zero sum vision of human and economic relations. For me to win, you have to lose. The more fluid and collaborative aspects of human interaction seem entirely lost on Trump. This is why he is the leader of the revanchist, racist far right.
But the political or ideological manifestations are secondary to the personal one. Trump needs to dominate people. Clearly Trump felt that McConnell and Ryan are not serving him well enough or loyally enough or both. So he lashed out or tried to damage them. Schumer and Pelosi were simply the most convenient cudgels available.
I don’t say this to discount the two Democrats’ savvy in pulling this off. I think they managed quite a coup. I just think that’s the true driver. It’s not clear to me whether Trump doesn’t realize that he hurt himself as much as he did Ryan and McConnell or whether he does realize it and simply doesn’t care. The core take remains the same. Trump’s core personal drive is the need to dominate. It’s been clear for weeks that he feels routinely betrayed by these two men. They don’t produce for him. They embarrass. They fail to defend him. The need to dominate runs deeper than any policy agenda or ideological ambition. People who are driven by the need to dominate are also often self-destructive. None of this is surprising.
Perhaps we’ll learn that there’s some other explanation, some pivot, some something. No doubt there’s plenty I don’t know and plenty we’ll learn. But I’m pretty sure at the root of it will be Trump’s need to dominate, to be in charge and obeyed and praised.
With that answer, with Trump, you almost never go wrong.