Twice in the span of just a few days now, the president has begun publicly negotiating against himself. On Tuesday afternoon, Trump instructed Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell and his own “representatives” to stop discussing a coronavirus-relief bill with House speaker Nancy Pelosi. Whereas he and down-ballot Republicans could have benefited politically from Pelosi’s holding the bill hostage to Democratic priorities such as bailing out blue states if Trump had held his tongue, er, thumbs, his declaration credit-claimed for shutting down negotiations. Even the president himself implicitly admitted the folly of that strategy just a few hours later when he started tweeting again, this time about the kind of bills that he would sign.
Then, this morning, upon learning that the Commission on Presidential Debates was changing the format of the second debate between Joe Biden and himself such that the two would not be in the same room together, Trump announced that he would not be attending. Think what you may about the change — it strikes me as unnecessary, though mostly harmless — it’s hard to overstate how foolish it is for Trump, down almost nine points nationally, to back out of a debate. Joe Biden has no need of more high-stakes confrontations — the status quo suits him just fine. Already, Biden has seized on this strategic error and scheduled a solo town hall with voters for next Thursday. Trump looks like a whiny quitter, and gets robbed of an opportunity to change the race’s dynamic. The art of the deal, folks.