I was in Utah last week visiting the grand daughters and, therefore, not sitting in my downtown Washington, DC office staring at CNN/MSNBC/CNBC for 13 hours per day. Still, the issue of the shutdown permeated some of our discussions, usually in this form: “We never hear anyone talking about the shutdown out here except as it pertains to the national parks.”
As we discussed the other day, $5.6 billion is a lot of money to you and me and just about everyone else on the planet that doesn’t own Amazon, but in the context of total Federal spending in the area of $4.4 TRILLION, the argument over The Wall represents spending of about 13/100s of one percent.
I’m willing to bet the Government Services Administration spends about that much on toilet paper every year.
If shutting down a quarter of the federal government over a relative pittance in spending isn’t really because of the amount of money involved, what <i>is</i> the reason?
The reason, I believe, can be found in a press conference given by President Bill Clinton in April 1995, four months into the Speakership of Newt Gingrich. According to Time Magazine:
“President Clinton used the fourth prime-time news conference of his presidency in an attempt to retake the initiative in a political scene that has increasingly been dominated by Newt Gingrich and the Contract with America.” That became known as the “I’m-Still-Relevant” press conference which, by the way, as an indication of how necessary that presser actually was to the Clinton Administration, was only covered by one network. The previous Fall, remember, Newt Gingrich led a political revolution that had wrested control of the U.S. House from Democratic control for the previous 40 years and handed it to Republicans.
The specific Republican hand into which control went was that of Newt Gingrich.I didn’t work for Newt at the time – the reprise of that opportunity would come a year later – but all the news, it seemed, was being made at the wrong end of Pennsylvania Avenue.
Zoom ahead about a quarter of a century and you have one Donald J. Trump facing the prospect of a new – recycled – Speaker named Nancy Pelosi and her 63 younger, more diverse, and less testosterone-driven group of freshman Members and he saw what was coming down the track:
An “I’m-Still-Relevant” press conference.
I don’t know that Newt called Trump and warned him not to allow Pelosi and her new majority in the House to also take control of the nano-second news cycle that Trump had driven for the previous two years. But, it would not surprise me to find out that Newt, in fact, did that as soon as he recognized the likelihood of Pelosi becoming Speaker on or about January 3, 2019.
Trump, as we know, needs an enemy. He told us way back when, that he was a great counter-puncher. If you want to be a great counter-puncher, you need someone who will throw the first (and third, and fifth) punches. The Wall, and the shutdown it has caused, is all about not letting Pelosi and the House Dems move the center of American political gravity from 20500, the ZIP code of the White House, to 20515 the ZIP code of the U.S. House.
The issue for Nancy Pelosi is the seamless way the Democratic freshmen have turned their Instagram/Facebook/Snapchat (etc.) campaign skills into communications avenues to their constituents and reporters without skipping a heartbeat.
When Newt assumed the gavel in 1995, there was no doubt that he was the leader of the revolution. Newt told me at the time that his Members believed in a “meritocracy” and they knew none of them could have had the vision, the public standing, and the sheer bloody-mindedness to invent, devise, and stick to the plan.
It is not clear to me that Nancy Pelosi’s Gang-of-63 believe anything of the sort. Her problem will be that, for all the nuttiness that Trump’s Tweets exhibit, there remains only one President – Donald Trump. There is only one Speaker, but as some of her feistier freshmen continue to throw rhetorical elbows at one another to get on the morning shows, on the Sunday shows, on the evening chat shows, getting a single message coming out of the House may be impossible.
In the meantime, Trump will ride The Wall, until he Humpty-Dumpty’s off the ledge. And then he’ll find a new issue to fight about.
It is what keeps him relevant.
On the Secret Decoder Ring page today: A link to the C-SPAN clip of Bill Clinton declaring his relevance, and to Politco.com’s look at the Congressional freshman class.
The Mullfoto is of a white mountain and a blue sky from Park City, Utah.