Trump doesn't understand tactical retreat, and it's handing a major gift to Democrats.


On Tuesday evening, in the midst of an erratic tweet storm, Donald Trump abruptly canceled negotiations with House Democrats on a COVID relief package, saying that he was instructing Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell to instead focus on confirming Amy Coney Barrett to the Supreme Court before the election. Trump's tantrum came on the heels of the Democrats passing their second attempt for this round of coronavirus relief package of $2.2 trillion through the House and a poll showing Americans, by a 3 to 1 margin, want Congress to act on COVID relief before the Senate takes up Barrett's nomination.

Trump's shock move was a surprise even to his campaign team, and it left his campaign manager stumped in the middle of a press call with pollsters. Incidentally, new polls are beginning to show that Trump has now blown the one advantage he had over Biden: the economy.

This is a disaster for Trump that portends to drag Republicans down with him in less than a month. Americans want and need COVID relief for individuals, states, and small business, and news of Trump's unilateral stand-down order sent stocks tumbling. Whether because of the sharp market reaction or because of his campaign team's pleas, Trump haphazardly added to his tweet storms demands to send him legislation with no coherent strategy, and that did not help.

Any other administration - especially one that is struggling to gain traction among American voters - would, if they wanted the negotiations to end, accept the House bill, have McConnell pass it through the Senate unchanged, and then move onto the Supreme Court nomination. An economic stimulus package in the waning days of a re-election campaign would be a big boost in the arm of any president, bolstering their credibility on the economy. Any other president would swallow an inconsequential loss - in that the opposing party's spending package prevailed over their own - as a tactical defeat in order to advance the strategic goals of buttressing their economic argument and filling a Supreme Court seat.

But not Donald Trump.

Donald Trump is so egotistical, so infatuated with his own image, so self-absorbed that he cannot get out of his own way. He cannot possibly accept a tactical loss, or any loss, because then he would look weak, if not to anyone else then to himself. Trump hates to lose, and being able to beat his chest about how he didn't let his 'enemies' win is all that matters.

So instead, he is making sure that for the remainder of the campaign, the top issue in voters' minds remains the coronavirus and its associated economic devastation, to the extent that it wasn't already so. Joe Biden and Democrats want to talk about COVID, we want to talk about Trump's Supreme Court nomination in the context of undermining the protections of the Affordable Care Act. Because of Trump walking away from the negotiations unilaterally, it will be even easier for Democrats to argue that he and his party are more interested in taking health care away from Americans through right wing judicial activism than in making sure that Americans who need health care and economic relief in the wake of deadly pandemic can rest easy.

We will, of course, do exactly that.