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Was Trump's role in the shutdown crisis all about bowing, once again, to Putin?
MAGA GOPers have demanded aid to Ukraine be cut. Now McCarthy faces a leadership challenge as Matt Gaetz zeroes in on a "secret" deal to extend aid to the U.S. ally.
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Donald Trump twice vociferously demanded that Republicans in the House shut down the government, in what many in the media (including myself at times) interpreted as a blow to House Speaker Kevin McCarthy.
But when the shutdown didn’t happen, Trump didn’t send out a blistering screed on Truth Social, attacking McCarthy for caving and cutting a deal with Democrats while Trump’s loyal MAGA extremists stood firm.
In fact, when asked about the House averting a shutdown and about Trump loyalist Rep. Matt Gaetz’s move to oust McCarthy, Trump, on a campaign stop in Iowa over the weekend, feigned ignorance about the motion to vacate McCarthy and expressed support for the embattled speaker:
I don't know anything about those efforts [by Gaetz to remove McCarthy], but I like both of them very much. I think it's too early [to comment], it just happened a little while ago. I've always had a great relationship with [McCarthy], he said very nice things about me and the job I've done, so I appreciate that.
This would seem baffling coming from anyone else. But we all now know that the “I don’t know anything about those efforts” line is a typical Trump five-Pinnochio lie, while the “he said very nice things about me" line is the usual Trump pat on the back to a loyal servant who performed well.
Could this be because, in the end, Trump actually got what he—and, notably, Vladimir Putin—wanted, and the media were all wrong in their interpretations?
Just hear me out. In the two Truth Social rants, Trump insisted that Republicans in the House must shut down the government. The messages were boilerplate Trump—blistering and urgent. In the first rant, on September 21, he included a rationale that he perhaps knew the media would latch onto, even though it was a fallacy. It would certainly serve to distract:
Republicans in Congress can and must defund all aspects of Crooked Joe Biden’s weaponized Government that refuses to close the Border, and treats half the Country as Enemies of the State. This is also the last chance to defund these political prosecutions against me and other Patriots.
Reporters and pundits immediately went into overdrive about how Trump’s desire for a shutdown seemed to be all about stopping the prosecutions against him, and they pointed to his supposed stupidity at not knowing that federal investigations and trials are exempted from a shutdown (and of course state trials in Georgia and New York are not affected).
But even after many in the media pointed out that Trump seemed both desperate and uninformed, since his prosecutions would continue, he sent out another. more urgent missive several days later, which appeared to repeat the same assertion:
The Republicans lost big on Debt Ceiling, got NOTHING, and now are worried that they will be BLAMED for the Budget Shutdown. Wrong!!! Whoever is President will be blamed. UNLESS YOU GET EVERYTHING, SHUT IT DOWN! Close the Border, stop the Weaponization of ‘Justice,’ and End Election Interference.
Many reporters zeroed in on how Trump was supposedly undermining McCarthy, who’d been introducing bills that drastically cut programs and added racist border policies—including a continuing resolution on Friday that included draconian 30% across-the-board non-defense spending cuts—and yet, the MAGA extremists in the House still torpedoed them.
On Saturday, hours before a government shutdown would take hold, McCarthy introduced a 45-day CR that doesn’t cut any domestic programs, includes much-needed disaster relief, but does not include Ukraine aid. It was a deal too good for Democrats to pass on—lest they be blamed for the shutdown—and both Democratic and Republican leaders in the Senate assured one another that the Ukraine aid would come in a supplemental bill later.
The White House was also confident and pointed to McCarthy having been supportive of aid to Ukraine. McCarthy, after the vote on Saturday, in speaking with reporters, also didn’t rule out further Ukraine aid (even as he tied it to stricter policies at the southern border, obviously to placate the racists in the GOP base).
So how did Trump go from “UNLESS YOU GET EVERYTHING, SHUT IT DOWN!” to “he said very nice things about me” when there was only one spending cut in the bill?
One obvious answer is that that particular spending cut is what was actually most important to Trump, not domestic cuts that he claimed would end the “WEAPONIZATION OF JUSTICE.” Perhaps he was even privately making his priorities known.
And further evidence of that is Trump’s loyalist, Gaetz, moving to oust McCarthy, but oddly, in his reasoning, he focuses almost solely on what he claims is a “secret” deal between the White House and McCarthy to push through the Ukraine money.
Whatever happens with regard to Gaetz’s motion to remove McCarthy, a main goal appears to be to highlight the issue of aid to Ukraine in hopes of stopping it or getting it cut dramatically. New York Times columnist Paul Krugman today has a must-read column on “Why MAGA Wants to Betray Ukraine.” He points out that spending really can’t be the reason, as Ukraine is a drop in the bucket and is money well spent in the protection of democracy:
No, aid to Ukraine isn’t undermining the future of Social Security, making it impossible to secure our border, or consuming 40 percent of America’s GDP.
How much are we actually spending supporting Ukraine? In the 18 months after the Russian invasion, U.S. aid totaled $77 billion. That may sound like a lot. It is a lot compared with the tiny sums we usually allocate to foreign aid.
But total federal outlays are currently running at more than $6 trillion a year, or more than $9 trillion every 18 months, so Ukraine aid accounts for less than 1 percent of federal spending (and less than 0.3 percent of G.D.P.). The military portion of that spending is equal to less than 5 percent of America’s defense budget.
Given how small a budget item that aid is, claims that aid to Ukraine somehow makes it impossible to do other necessary things, such as securing the border, are nonsense. MAGA types aren’t known for getting their numbers right or, for that matter, caring whether they get their numbers right, but I doubt that even they really believe that the monetary costs of helping Ukraine are insupportable.
And the claims by Republicans that Europe needs to “step up” are a fallacy:
European countries and institutions collectively have made substantially larger aid commitments than we have. Notably, most of Europe, including France, Germany and Britain, has promised aid that is higher as a percentage of G.D.P. than the U.S. commitment.
Krugman asks, "“Why, then, do MAGA politicians want to cut Ukraine off?” The answer, he says—and I agree—is that “they want Putin to win”:
They view the Putin regime’s cruelty and repression as admirable features that America should emulate. They support a wannabe dictator at home and are sympathetic to actual dictators abroad.
Viewed through this lens, it’s easy to see how Trump, always able to play the corporate media, threw reporters off the scent by curiously never mentioning cutting Ukraine aid in his rants—even though we know Trump both believes Putin is a “genius” for invading Ukraine and wants the U.S. to cut off aid—and distracted them with the idea that he wanted to defund prosecutions even though that wouldn’t happen and he knows that.
Trump has done Putin’s bidding for years, and the MAGA extremists in the House and Senate are now following Trump in doing the same. And they have made inroads with the rest of the GOP on the issue of cutting aid to Ukraine. That’s why it’s so important Democrats focus now on a bill to aid Ukraine, fight authoritarianism, and save democracy.