It is over. Roger Stone, one of the president’s oldest and dearest friends, went down like a cheap hooker on prom night in the backseat of a Chevy. With a tattoo of Richard Nixon’s head on his back, Stone is the latest to get thrown under the Mueller bus with a federal indictment, and at this point, it doesn’t look like there’s any way for Trump to avoid his day of reckoning.
And thus, he once again dominated the news cycle. Stone was prominent, as was the continuing Venezuela debacle. The DOD already has contingencies for taking Marines there, but for the day, Trump dominated with the news of an end to the government shutdown. For 35 days, he held the country and 800,000 government workers hostage while he tried to force an unneeded border wall down the collective throat of a country once seen as a place where your tired, your poor and your huddled masses yearning to breathe free were welcome.
Not so much anymore. Trump’s vision of how immigration works here is as chaotic as the speed-freak cocaine-addict gang member he claims he wants to keep from entering the country—but that’s not important now. What is important is that Trump got the exact same deal he had 35 days ago on immigration and it only took the suffering of a nation to get us back there.
No matter how Trump spins it, he did not get the win on the border wall.
To be fair, those who live on the border know there’s a real crisis of institutionalized, multi-generational poverty, a lack of infrastructure, poor education and healthcare endemic to the border that is far worse than other places in the country. So they welcome the scrutiny from Washington, D.C. with the hope that someone will actually stumble across real issues while they visit the area. That hope is long-lived for no one since Ronald Reagan has addressed the real issues there—particularly on the Texas-Mexico frontier. But Trump has certainly screamed more about non-existent problems than anyone in the last 40 years.
The caravans of marauding and desperate refugees, the comic-book style villains, the drugs and the violence are all central to Trump’s desire to build a wall, a fence, pikes, heads on pikes, or whatever else he wants to call his border barrier. He even said you could call it “peaches” if you wanted. Doesn’t matter to him. It’s the win that matters.
It didn’t have to be true and surely wasn’t. But Trump liked saying it. No matter how Trump spins it, he did not get the win on the border wall. He got owned by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, who called his bluff by denying him access to the House of Representatives to deliver the annual State of the Union address, by the TSA and FAA employees who slowed down air traffic and by GOP members of Congress who were ready to bolt from the herd. The icing on the cake came from The Flight Attendant Union, aimed at the other culpable character in this: Senate Majority Leader Mitch “I need a chin” McConnell.
“Do we have your attention now, Leader McConnell?” the union asked in its statement. “The shutdown must end immediately. Our country’s entire economy is on the line.” At that point, the shutdown would directly affect Trump’s friends and cronies who love the ability to fly at will anywhere and everywhere. You can hurt the middle and lower classes, but don’t inconvenience the jet-set. The shutdown had to end. But the feckless wandering chaos dominating 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue has in the last month exposed what many already knew to those who are only waking up: The administration is in disarray, inept and chaotic. When standing in the upper press offices earlier this week, I mentioned to a White House staffer it was a crazy day. “They’re all crazy days,” I was told. “We just call them days.”
Since the Democrats took over the House, and while the Mueller investigation continues to nibble at the edges of an increasingly isolated president, the world has become a more dangerous place.
That metaphor came home to roost in the Rose Garden as the president tried to explain how he won and would sign a continuing resolution that will re-open the government through February 15. There were huge gaps in his speech, gaps filled in by ad-libs that included references to duct tape and gang violence—none of it real but all of it silly. The serious part came at the end of the speech when the president threatened to call a national emergency in three weeks and get his wall funding that way.
Nobody cares. That will all be shoveled into the courts to be decided. At the end of the speech, as we walked away from a mountain of words that had been assembled and spoken in such a fashion as to prompt questions of literacy and sanity about the speaker, I shook my head. Many did. Many commented. My comment got caught on an open mic. “It’s like a colonoscopy without benefit of anesthesia, again,” I said. I’ve said it often during these last two years. But it felt completely new and unambiguously honest after sitting through a statement by the president on the Rose Garden after which he bolted without taking any questions. I shouted a question at him: Did he have any reaction to those who say his administration is in disarray? He ignored me. Jim Acosta asked if he was going to pardon Roger Stone. That was ignored too. Hallie Jackson asked him about the shutdown. Nothing. I came back with “Are you going to resign?” But he was already gone. He disappeared and remained unseen until later in the day when he called the reporting pool into the Diplomatic Room so he could rant and rave a little bit, take one question and then usher reporters and photographers out the door.
The South Lawn, where the president will hold court for several minutes, is within the realm of possibilities. But opportunities there have dwindled since the shutdown. Trump hasn’t left to go play golf all that much, or left to go anywhere else so our South Lawn visits are fewer and farther between. News conferences? That’s not happening. Press briefings? We’re too rough on Sarah Huckabee Sanders, and I’ve been personally blamed, according to a recent Washington Post article, for shutting those things down.
The White House staff not furloughed and still at the White House cheered Trump’s announcement about the end of the shutdown. CNN’s Acosta said it sounded like something out of Alice in Wonderland, an apt description, but I was reminded of bleating sheep more than anything else. At least I am fairly sure I smelled sheep fertilizer on the Rose Garden.
Meanwhile, the greatest smell continues to come from the Stone indictment. Stone, along the lines of the rest of the reality show mentality of this administration, is seen in an indictment using threats found in Mafia movies and encouraging associates to do a “Frank Pentangeli” or Frankie Angels from The Godfather: Part II. One has to wonder if Stone was encouraging his associate to commit suicide after stonewalling the government. And we are all left wondering what’s next in this horror-filled reality show.