Shutdown Drama Exposes Trump’s Presidential Incompetence As Greater Than We Realized [Opinion]

The president was completely ill-prepared to 'win' the shutdown, but decided to go for it anyway.

President Donald Trump, looking toward the ground while walking in the White House.
Alex Wong / Getty Images

The president was completely ill-prepared to 'win' the shutdown, but decided to go for it anyway.

Many have long-asserted that President Donald Trump was not competent enough to serve as chief executive of the United States government. While some have attempted to defend the president over the course of the past two years, his behavior and strategy for “winning” the government shutdown in recent weeks have confirmed his inability to lead.

Trump did not have much leverage to begin with when the shutdown debate began. He had a Republican Congress behind him, but even then, he was unable to get both houses to agree to fund his border wall — much less tie it to a bill that needed to be passed in order to fund the government.

Now, with the House of Representatives under Democratic Party control, Trump’s limited leverage is more curtailed than it was before — as reporting from Bloomberg suggested would happen, weeks ago. Even so, Trump presses on with his demands.

Trump refuses to acknowledge political realities that he faces. In doing so, he prolongs a government shutdown, all for a border wall that won’t do what he says it will, will cost more than he describes, and won’t get passed by Congress.

When Trump ran for president, he described himself as an astute businessman, a master negotiator who perfected the “art of the deal.” We’ve seen demonstrable instances of just the opposite being the case, however — ever since he assumed political office, per reporting from Vanity Fair.

One of the problems with Trump’s ability to lead, or negotiate, is that it’s impossible to know how to work with him. Even members of his own party don’t know how Trump will act from one day to the next.

Case in point: his shifting threats on the border wall, and on the government shutdown, days before it officially began. After it was clear in mid-December that he didn’t have the votes to get a border wall included in a continuing resolution bill in the Senate, Trump signaled that he was going to back down on the promise to shut down the government over the matter, reporting from the Wall Street Journal reminds us, via Twitter.

The Senate accordingly passed a continuing resolution that didn’t include border wall funding. Later in the week, Trump reneged on his change of heart, and once again promised to veto any bill that didn’t have border wall funding.

That sort of action makes it near-impossible to know how to pass legislation that will pass muster with the president. And it’s but one example of Trump’s failure to know how to act as president, even two years into the role.

Trump also makes clear that he’s not the negotiator we thought he was, through his inability to actually negotiate. So far, he has offered no plan to Democrats that could create a compromise to end the impasse. It’s “my way or the highway” when it comes to Trump’s demands, as he’s unwilling to say he’d support other measures so long as he got his wall.

Any business major could tell you, that’s not how you negotiate.

Trump could, for example, get the border wall he so desperately craves if he were willing to compromise. He might consider agreeing to a deal to help “Dreamers,” undocumented immigrants who came to this country as children, and who for all intents and purposes are just as American as any individual born within the nation’s boundaries. Many Democrats have signaled they’d be willing to break with their party to support Trump’s border wall funding if he agrees to support the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, VICE News reported on Tuesday.

There’s been no indication from the White House that such a deal could come about, however.

All of this is to say that Trump has really painted himself into a corner. He will not likely win the debate on the border wall without being able to budge on other issues. Were he more competent a leader, he’d have known that well before the shutdown even began.

Because of Trump’s inability to lead or negotiate, we are stuck in shutdown status. And because of his incompetence, we’re likely to stay here for some time — a good leader would know when they’ve been licked. Donald Trump, on the other hand, won’t admit defeat until he absolutely has to… which, sadly, could be a long while.