Trump turns to scorched-earth tactic

Editorial | Mary Ma 8 Oct 2020

US president Donald Trump's astonishing pullout from pandemic stimulus talks with House Democrats may have surprised even his own camp.

Was he simply trying to pass to Americans the most direct election message so far that if they let him win the election next month, they will get all the relief he deems necessary without the kind of strings the Democrats have been trying to attach to any relief package?

If that is the case, then it is, strictly speaking, blatant vote rigging.

Or was Trump suffering from a mental knockout due to the steroids that his doctors had prescribed for him as part of the cocktail created to treat his Covid infection, as some of his ardent critics have been vigorously trying to suggest?

If so, Trump's mental health will be no better than that of his presidential election challenger Joe Biden.

Of course, which theory one subscribes to depends on where one stands politically.

However, while both are probable, there's a third possibility: the old man has had enough of veteran House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, who has proven herself to be a far more formidable foe to Trump than Biden has ever been.

The US economy seems to have stabilized after a round of fiscal stimulus measures, including cash checks posted to every household.

Yet, both Republicans and Democrats want a fresh round of measures as the pandemic rages on.

Given her hypersensitive political instincts, Pelosi acted early to occupy the moral high ground by passing the Heroes Act through the House early on in order to pave the way for a new stimulus package. The Democrats want more than US$3 trillion (HK$23.4 trillion) for starters.

The Republicans want a smaller sum and its dispensationto be centralized under the federal government, rather than to hand the money over to individual states where the Democrats have greater control.

The position from which Pelosi has taken the Democrats in their political beat is unbeatable. If a new stimulus package is passed, the credit will go to the Democrats, giving a much needed boost to Biden's campaign and the party's bid to seize back control of the Senate.

If the stimulus talks break down, she can lay the blame on Trump and the Republicans.

When Trump made the announcement of the pullout in a tweet and pledged that "immediately after I win, we will pass a major stimulus bill that focuses on hardworking Americans and Small Business," his treasury secretary Steve Mnuchin had just finished a phone conversation with Pelosi to narrow the gap.

Trump's tweet caught his camp totally off guard.

Despite the setback, Pelosi should privately feel delighted over Trump's unexpected disruption of the negotiations as she can now get her party to embark on Plan B - to put all the blame on Trump and his fellow Republicans casting a nervous eye in the race for Congressional seats.

Even if Mnuchin had not been prevented from cutting a deal with Pelosi on the limit of the new stimulus package, it would still have been difficult to pass the bill in the Senate since the agreed sum would again be too high for some Republicans in the Senate.

The sudden reversal is consistent with Trump's behavorial pattern, which long predates his being put on Covid medication: it has the hallmark of a scorched-earth policy.


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