What is Trump doing?
That’s the question on the minds of many other Republicans I know – all supporters of the President. They’ve asked, variously, whether he’s just making a bunch of mistakes in all this impeachment stuff or is surrounded by poor advice, or what. He seems to be shooting totally from the hip.
Or, perhaps, he’s making a calculation that Elizabeth Warren is the George McGovern of the modern-day Democratic Party – an unelectable far-left grassroots candidate with much less national appeal than meets the eye.
If that’s what he’s doing, and I think it’s likely that he is, then a lot of what he’s done these past few weeks makes sense. Read on.
What Trump Knows About the Next Year
This isn’t to say that Trump is playing his cards perfectly. There’s no reason to think that every move is calculated, nor that all of his advisors and defenders are even aware of such a strategy. Sure, the off-the-cuff tweets and comments can sometimes cause their own problems.
Yet the more I think about it, the more the big picture makes strategic sense. It gives a rhyme and a reason to what he’s been saying and doing. Because here’s what Trump knows for sure about the next year:
- The House will vote to impeach him, as much of its Democratic membership has been hoping to do for some time.
- The Senate will not vote to remove him from office. The vast majority of Senate Republicans cannot, because it would doom the reelection of all but a few of them.
- Elizabeth Warren is on the verge of overtaking Joe Biden. She’s raising more money, beating him in Iowa, close in New Hampshire, and close nationally.
- Traditionally Democratic corporate donors will likely not back Elizabeth Warren, because she has pledged to directly intervene in numerous areas of finance and corporate regulation. Right now, many of those big donors are betting on Biden.
- Impeachment sucks all the air out of the room for Democrats to talk about Warren’s electability, as they fretted back when she was entering the race – because they believe that impeachment makes the President unelectable, period.
- Whatever Joe Biden knew, his son was definitely not on the up-and-up with this whole Burisma thing, which is why few can entirely dismiss it.
So imagine for a moment you’re Donald Trump, and you’re looking at these facts. What makes the most sense? How do you play it?
Of course, Warren is not the most electable Democrat in her own right. But then…
Trump’s Ace in the Hole
Let me add one more little fact to that already-long queue:
Remember when Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz was maybe sort of not running, for a short time?
Part of his candidacy was based on the concern that the Democratic Party would nominate a far-left candidate like Warren. But in suspending his effort, the strong implication was that it looked like the Democratic Party was preparing to uphold a more moderate nominee in Joe Biden.
Of course, if Schultz – or any other prominent centrist or center-left figure – decided to mount a third party bid, you could bet that it would help Trump.
That might even be true of Justin Amash, the ex-Republican Michigan congressman who is very publicly mulling a run under the Libertarian Party banner. If Amash runs, he will win the Libertarian nomination. And guess what?
Remember former New Mexico Governor Gary Johnson, who was the Libertarian Party’s nominee in 2016?. He received nearly 4.5 million votes, 3.27 percent, in that election – the LP’s best showing ever.
Polling data throughout the campaign showed, consistently, that Johnson hurt Clinton more than he hurt Trump. Amash would likely do the same, especially if the Democrats nominated Elizabeth Warren.
Some disaffected moderate Democrats might never vote for Trump, but after Trump has attacked Warren for months on end, a Green or Libertarian might seem more attractive.
It is entirely plausible that a Warren candidacy causes a third party to emerge from the mire and grab enough attention to further damage her candidacy and help ensure Trump’s reelection.
Biden is Distracted
All that said, Joe Biden is distracted. He’s way off-message.
We know that’s true because he’s resorted, now, to publishing op-eds and making public statements increasingly attacking Trump and defending himself – not about public policy or Trump’s record, but on Trump’s chosen turf of this entire Ukraine thing.
Ask your friendly neighborhood political consultant whether it’s good to have your candidate go haywire about what your opponent is saying.
Not to mention that Biden is a known liability on the stump. His gaffes are legendary. Do you think he’ll keep his talking points straight on this Ukraine matter? No way.
Trump’s Poker Game
Meanwhile, Trump has stayed mostly silent on Warren since earlier in the year. He has repeatedly attacked the Bidens – and numerous other figures, for that matter.
It’s easy to assume that Trump is just going off half-cocked. Many do, and heck, I’ve often wondered myself. But if you zoom out and look at the forest and not just the few trees of the moment, you see that there are often patterns to what President Trump is doing.
He attacks certain figures in the moment, or comes up with certain statements, but he’s keeping the big picture in mind.
Trump is like an aggressive poker player, and forgive me in advance if this analogy does not resonate with you (after all, I already used the cliched “ace in the hole”). Some aggressive poker players develop a massive advantage by repeatedly raising the pot, especially before the dealt cards (the flop) come out. The best do it so that it looks entirely random and even foolish.
That way, the other players at the table assume that they have nothing most of the time. They figure that the aggressive player is representing strength but is actually weak – a bluff. That might be true, a good portion of the time.
The best aggressive players, though, use this to their advantage.
They raise and raise and frustrate the other players to the point where those players will come in with much weaker hands than normal, figuring they’ll catch the aggressive player in a bluff.
It is at those times when these great players will reveal extremely strong hands, and others realize that all along, the aggression was purposeful.
By staying quiet on Warren, the calculated nature of Trump’s strategy becomes clear. He realizes that she’s in position to win the Democratic nomination, and is happy to make the moves necessary to allow that to happen.
He will attack and seemingly become unhinged, keeping the focus on Joe Biden and himself while Warren sneaks up and grabs the nomination away from the former Vice President in a whirl of left-wing excitement.
If she does, he wins reelection in 2020.