In the video that Trump tweeted, he threatened to wreck the carefully negotiated settlement that led Congress to pass a $900 billion economic rescue package. He insisted that its $600 stimulus checks are insufficient and called on lawmakers to increase the payment to $2,000.
Trump’s threat not to sign the deal makes a government shutdown more likely, and it puts congressional Republicans who supported it in a terrible spot. As one GOP observer noted, Trump “just pulled down the pants of every Republican who voted for it.”
But this also gives Democrats a strong argument against Georgia’s GOP senators, Kelly Loeffler and David Perdue. It demonstrates, once again, that the only real obstacle to more generous economic assistance is the Republican Party.
That’s why Jon Ossoff, Perdue’s Democratic challenger, jumped on Trump’s missive. Ossoff told CNN that Congress absolutely must “send $2,000 checks to the American people right now, because people are hurting.”
Ossoff added that Republicans such as Perdue are only now backing $600 stimulus checks, after they “obstructed direct relief for the last eight months.” Top Democrats also declared that it’s time to deliver $2,000, including House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (Calif.), who set a House vote on the idea:
The hidden beauty of this is that it destroys the story that Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) wants to tell about how we got here, a story that he hopes will salvage Loeffler, Perdue and his Senate majority.
McConnell agreed to this $900 billion deal in part to save his Georgia senators, admitting that they were “getting hammered” over opposition to stimulus checks. His spin now is that Republicans always wanted to offer this relief and that Democrats were the obstacle to it.
In reality, Democrats were the ones demanding more generous aid — and bigger stimulus checks — for many months. When the White House and Democrats were negotiating on a bigger package with larger stimulus payments that Trump wanted, McConnell opposed it. He didn’t want Republicans to have to vote on it, since many supported doing little to nothing.
Trump has revealed Democratic claims about this whole tale to be true — that the real obstacle to more relief is congressional Republicans. And this in turn spells out the real consequences of GOP Senate control next year: very little chance of another ambitious aid package.
Many will point out that Trump’s lack of engagement all throughout is why Republicans never felt pressure from his demand for bigger stimulus checks. But that only confirms the point: White House aides and congressional Republicans seized on that disinterest to ensure less spending.
It’s true that Trump’s demand for big stimulus checks rings hollow, given that he’s spent all his time lately on overturning the election, not on influencing the talks. But as Chris Hayes points out, there nonetheless just is a core difference between Trump and McConnell on this.
That’s a problem for Perdue and Loeffler. When asked about this, they will have to decide between Trump’s call for bigger payments and McConnell’s opposition to them.
It will be perversely amusing if Loeffler and Perdue are willing to stick with Trump’s efforts to subvert the will of the American people — they continue to refuse to say he lost — but not willing to support his call for more economic aid to them.
The bottom line is that the story of the past nine months confirms that orthodox conservative opposition to big spending — even to help Americans suffering amid two of the biggest crises of the modern era — has been the main obstacle to assistance for them. Trump has laid this bare.
The Trump effect
To no small degree, in the runoffs, Loeffler and Perdue are trying to replicate the Trump effect. Their ads sell them as urgent checks on a Biden presidency, which is depicted as a Trojan Horse for creeping socialism pushed by non-White Democratic lawmakers, antifa mobs burning cities and so forth.
As Matthew Continetti details, Trump’s depiction of this fictitious series of emergencies is largely what’s defining and holding the GOP together in the Trump era. It has flushed new voters into the GOP electorate — the voters whose turnout is essential in the runoffs. Without Trump on the ballot, Perdue and Loeffler want to reproduce this effect with similar appeals oriented around those enemies — and around the lie that the election was stolen from him.
But the focus on this Trumpist mythology has nothing to say about covid-19 or the economy, the two biggest challenges facing the country right now. Republicans hope to pass the absolute minimum in assistance to paper over that gaping hole among the sort of swing voters who went for President-elect Joe Biden, while wielding the Trump mythology to drive base turnout into a frenzy.
But Trump has exposed the hollowness of the GOP agenda on these crises. It’s plausible, of course, that Republicans can win the Georgia runoffs largely on the fumes of that Trumpist mythology. But their strategy just got a whole lot more precarious, and Trump himself is to thank for it.