It turns out Donald Trump’s greatest strength in the 2016 presidential race was not his business acumen but rather Hillary Clinton’s unpopularity.
Tens of millions of Americans were so turned off by Clinton’s representation of establishment politics that they took a chance on an unorthodox candidate with zero political experience.
And by Saturday, the one-year anniversary of his inauguration and first full day of a government shutdown, it appears Trump can’t fix Washington either.
“When they look back at their vote, what they wanted was some type of shake up the system, they chose to take the risk with the outsider…in order to shake up the system,” said Rob Stutzman, a Republican political strategist based in Sacramento, California. “What you can’t abandon is expertise.”
Democrats and some Republicans quickly blamed Trump for failing to negotiate a deal with Congress to keep the government open after it ran out of money Friday at midnight.
“President Trump earned an ‘F’ for leadership,” House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-California blasted.
Congressional Democrats and Republicans traded blame, but the finger-pointing at Trump was even more stinging because he has bragged for years that he had a natural talent to make a deal. That boast, in fact, was about as prominent a fixture in his 2016 campaign speeches as his vows to build a wall on the border.
And now the shutdown comes just months after he failed — twice — to help Republicans make good on his promise to repeal and replace President Barack Obama’s signature legislative issues, the Affordable Care Act. And it robs of him of momentum following a late 2017 tax cut and continued good fortune on Wall Street stock markets.
Trump scrapped his plans to attend a high-dollar fundraiser Saturday at Mar-a-Lago, his posh Florida resort, to celebrate his first year in office and instead stayed at the White House working to re-open the government. He spent Saturday publicly criticizing Democrats for the shutdown in a series of social media missives while privately worrying he will be blamed.
Trump, who has a vast real estate empire, has long boasted he is a consummate a dealmaker, even writting a best-selling book, The Art of the Deal. Four years ago, he chastised Obama for not being able to cut a deal to avoid a similar shutdown.
“The problems start from the top and have to get solved from the top. The president is the leader, and he’s got to get everybody in a room and he’s got to lead,” he said in 2013 after the last government shutdown.
“Nobody knows the system better than me, which is why I alone can fix it,” he said in 2016.
In recent weeks, Trump and his top aides held multiple meetings with lawmakers on a spending deal — including the possibility of authorizing the children’s health insurance program and protections for so-called Dreamers who were brought to the nation illegally as children. He pledged to sign off on a bipartisan deal. But then, as a midnight deadline loomed, he held to a hard line position on excluding DACA in the government spending bill.
“We hated Hillary so much we are willing to vote for a unproven president,” said Charlie Sykes, a veteran conservative commentator and former Wisconsin talk radio show host. “This whole ‘Art of the Deal’ image...it was based on a myth.”
The criticisms of Trump as a negotiator are long: His skeptics, both among Republicans and Democrats, say he doesn’t know the issues and doesn’t want to get to know the issues in any great detail. Others note he changes his mind frequently, sometimes agreeing with the last person who speaks to him, other times courting Democrats only to later side with more conservative lawmakers. And some of his aides, including senior policy adviser Stephen Miller, are hurting their chances of getting anything done.
“I’m looking for something that President Trump supports,” a frustrated Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Kentucky said last week. “And he’s not yet indicated what measure he’s willing to sign. As soon as we figure out what he is for, then I would be convinced that we were not just spinning our wheels going to this issue on the floor, but actually dealing with a bill that has a chance to become law and therefore solve the problem.”
Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-New York, told reporters Saturday that negotiating with Trump is like negotiating with “Jell-O.”
The bombastic businessman turned reality TV star won the 2016 presidential race against Clinton, who faced her own long list of problems: Most Americans didn’t trust her. Many lawmakers vowed not to work with her. The FBI was investigating her use of a personal email system while at the State Department. And voters criticized her for being out-of-touch Washington insider.
“I think it was more about Hillary than anything else,” veteran Republican strategist Doug Heye said about the election. But, Heye said, Trump’s reputation as a dealmaker was “central to his brand.”
“He campaigned on ‘I alone can fix it.’ But it’s become clear that is not the reality,” New York based Republican strategist Evan Siegfried said. “It’s very disappointing because the message of 2016 was Americas were frustrated with the way government was working or not working. If anything, Trump has injected more paralysis into the government partially because he’s not a good negotiator.”
Franco Ordonez of McClatchy’s Washington Bureau contributed.
Correction: An earlier version of this article included the wrong title for Chuck Schumer, who is Senate minority leader.