And moderate Democrats are stoking his delusions of grandeur.
One of the tropes of Trump-era Washington reporting is that any time President Trump is doing something unusually stupid and cruel, stories will appear in the media noting that Jared Kushner and Ivanka Trump are trying to talk him out of it. But here is something new. The Washington Postreports that Kushner is talking Trump into extending the longest government shutdown in history.
The presidential son-in-law is “repeatedly assuring Trump that he can personally strike a deal with Democrats,” reports the Post. Kushner, fired up by faith in his deal-making prowess, believes he is on the cusp of breaking apart the Democratic caucus and delivering a ransom to Trump. “A person familiar with Kushner’s strategy” — i.e., Kushner himself — tells the Post “he has been focused on targeting Democrats who may want to break from leadership and has had positive conversations with many of them.”
This sounds insane. Indeed, other advisers in the White House say it’s insane. “They can’t jam Pelosi. They never will. They think Nancy Pelosi will have to eat something. She’s not going to have to eat anything.” Another quote describes Kushner as “delusional.”
Delusional, he almost certainly is. But there is a basis for Kushner’s delusions. At least some Democrats seem to want to give Trump his ransom. “Give Trump the money. I’d give him the whole thing,” Representative Collin Peterson, a right-leaning Democrat from a red Minnesota district, told a local radio station Tuesday, “Why are we fighting over this? We’re going to build that wall anyway, at some time.”
“We all agree it’s very important that we find a way to actually start talking,” said New Jersey representative Josh Gottheimer, leader of the bipartisan Problem Solvers Caucus. “A lot of people just want to get this resolved … They’re impatient for a lack of conversation.” And Representative Kurt Schrader, a member of the Blue Dog coalition, a caucus for Democratic moderates, tells Politico, “Not negotiating is not a good strategy. We lost the messaging battle over the weekend. We can’t reject stuff out of hand, you have to at least consider it.”
The notion that Democrats are “losing” the battle seems totally bizarre. Trump’s approval rating has fallen into the 30s. A Fox News poll showsTrump’s approval on handling of border security (!) at minus ten. Trump’s own economists are pleading with him through the media to end the shutdown before it triggers a recession, which of course would all but doom his already-tenuous chances of winning reelection. If this is Democrats “losing,” what would winning look like?
The fact that Democrats are willing to rescue Trump from a self-inflicted death blow to his own presidency, by reopening the government with no strings attached, is remarkably generous. It’s nothing short of astonishing that some Democrats appear willing to give Trump concessions in order to prevent Trump from committing political suicide.
Presumably these are among the Democrats speaking to Kushner and feeding his confidence. Now, Kushner probably doesn’t understand how much distance remains between him and his goal. First, any deal he made with Democrats would have to survive Stephen Miller, who controls the policy apparatus, and who actually does understand policy, unlike Kushner.
Second, and far more importantly, Kushner would have to persuade Democrats to take the extraordinary step of stripping control of the House agenda from Speaker Nancy Pelosi. Pelosi has firmly argued against giving Trump any ransom, on the grounds that it would encourage him to take more hostages. Kushner wants to work around her by cutting a deal with some breakaway moderates. The problem, as many Democrats understood during the years of Republican House control, is that having the support of 218 House members for a bill doesn’t do you any good if the Speaker keeps the bill off the House floor. So maybe Kushner can get some Democrats to agree with him, but getting them to force the deal onto the floor over Pelosi’s objections is a much bigger ask, and an obstacle he probably hasn’t even contemplated.
But the fact that these Democrats are talking to Kushner and sending receptive signals has apparently inflated his already swollen confidence in his negotiating prowess. Kushner surely grasps that telling Trump what he wants to hear — that he can “win” the shutdown — is making Trump more likely to listen to Kushner and to ignore the other, more downbeat advisers. And the longer Kushner has some reason to believe his own fairy tale, the longer the shutdown will go on.