President Trump issued an unplanned and seemingly impulsive public declaration today that he would boycott all infrastructure negotiations with Democrats unless they stop investigating his misconduct. “I walked into the room, and I told Senator Schumer, Speaker Pelosi, I want to do infrastructure, I want to do it more than you want to do it. I’d be really good at it, that’s what I do,” he said. “But you know what? You can’t do it under these circumstances. So get these phony investigations over with.”
As he has done so often, Trump is inverting the traditional pattern of behavior for his office. The usual move for a president facing investigation or impeachment is to piously declare that he is putting the nation’s business first and to urge everybody to focus on whatever policy matter is at hand. But instead, now the president is saying policy must come to a halt because of the investigations.
What’s more, his demand is completely uncategorical. Trump is not merely objecting to impeachment proceedings, which have not even begun, but to all investigations. ABC News reports aides “tried to stop him for marching to the Rose Garden for that event,” but Trump “was mad from first thing this morning,” and “comments by Speaker Pelosi pushed him over the edge.” In other words, just the kind of coolheaded strategy we have come to expect from this president.
What makes this demand especially comical is how badly he reads the incentives. Trump has always had a distorted view of the Democrats’ incentives. They may like the idea of spending money on infrastructure, but a deal would help Trump enormously — both by pumping stimulus into the economy and by allowing him to recapture the centrist deal-making identity he ran on in 2016. Trump’s unpopularity in office owes itself in large part to his heavy reliance on a traditional plutocratic Republican agenda of tax cuts for the rich, trying to repeal Obamacare, and allowing the business lobby to self-regulate.
An infrastructure deal would be a lifeline for Trump. It’s probably the one thing he could do to bump up his approval rating. So now he’s holding a gun to his own approval ratings. If Democrats don’t stop doing the thing that makes Trump less popular, he won’t do the thing that makes him more popular! And in so doing, he will rob himself of his best argument against the investigations — that they are a distraction from real work — by personally taking responsibility for the lack of any progress off Congress’s shoulders and onto his own.
The master of leverage speaks.
This post has been updated.