U.S. President Donald Trump walks along the Rose Garden as he returns from a day trip to Atlanta on the South Lawn of the White House in Washington, U.S., April 28, 2017.
CARLOS BARRIA

Trump’s boldest move of all is pretending he has a mandate

Updated
White House Press Secretary Reince Priebus appeared on NBC’s “Meet the Press” a couple of weeks ago and told Chuck Todd about Team Trump’s expectations for the spending bill that would prevent a government shutdown:
“We expect the priorities of the president to be reflected in the [spending bill[. So, we expect a massive increase in military spending. We expect money for border security in this bill. And it ought to be – because the president won overwhelmingly, and everyone understands the border wall was part of it.”
As it turns out, Democrats and Republicans in Congress decided to ignore Donald Trump’s “priorities,” giving the White House effectively nothing from the president’s wish list, and Trump endorsed the bill anyway. But Priebus’ reference to the president’s “overwhelming” victory stood out for me, and not just because it’s ridiculously untrue.

When Trump and his aides lie about the scale of his 2016 win – the president has a map he’d apparently love to show you – it’s easy to assume that it’s part of a pathetic exercise to boost the president’s fragile ego, hoping to make him feel better about himself after receiving nearly 3 million fewer votes than Hillary Clinton.

And while that’s almost certainly part of Team Trump’s motivations, Priebus’ subtle point is also important: the president wants us to believe he won “overwhelmingly,” which in turn should give him a mandate to pursue a regressive agenda, which in turn means Trump feels comfortable barking orders he expects Congress and others to follow.

Yesterday was clearly an extension of this mindset. House Republicans, who saw their majority shrink in 2016, passed a depraved health care bill that most of the country doesn’t want. They then celebrated at the White House with a president who, when Americans were given a choice, came in second.

In other words, these guys are pretending to have a mandate that doesn’t exist outside their active imaginations. They’re governing as if the nation has extended its enthusiastic backing to a far-right agenda and Trump racked up FDR-like vote totals.

Neither is true. The president, House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.), and GOP officials en masse are playing make believe, pretending to have the will of the governed behind them. They don’t. The Republican plan had a 17% approval rating before GOP officials gutted protections for those with pre-existing conditions – one of the most popular elements of “Obamacare.”

A week after Inauguration Day, FiveThirtyEight’s Nate Silver said the most striking thing about the new administration is “the juxtaposition between the boldness of Trump’s actions and the narrowness of his mandate.”

Quite right. After Trump lost the popular vote in an election in which he was helped by an illegal espionage operation launched by a foreign adversary, he could’ve chosen a modest course built on a goal of reconciliation.

As we saw yesterday, Trump prefers to thumb his nose at the electorate and do as he pleases. It’s not a recipe for long-term success.