Look out ‘losers’ — Trump focused on ‘winning’

What are the two most thankless jobs in the world?  Donald Trump's chief of staff, and host of the Academy Awards. Take either of those jobs and you're asking for trouble.

The Trump White House is facing bleak prospects — mounting legal problems, chaotic messaging, staff defections, backstabbing, a Democratic House majority with impeachment power, and an abusive boss who refuses to be managed. President TrumpDonald John TrumpTrump defends Stephanopolous interview Trump defends Stephanopolous interview Buttigieg on offers of foreign intel: 'Just call the FBI' MORE ended up turning to somebody already on the White House staff, budget director Mick MulvaneyJohn (Mick) Michael MulvaneyElection security bills face GOP buzzsaw Election security bills face GOP buzzsaw White House mulling restoring daily press briefing with Sanders replacement: report MORE, to become “Acting Chief of Staff” — a temporary, interim assignment — to fill in for John KellyJohn Francis KellyMORE when he leaves in January.

The big problem is how Donald Trump handles setbacks: He refuses to acknowledge them. He would never tolerate being called a loser. Or, in his impeccable outer borough accent, a “losah,” his favorite term for people who get in his way. Trump's long list of “losahs” includes George Will, Chuck Todd, Karl Rove, Mark Cuban, Frank Luntz and many, many others. But never Donald Trump. 

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He counts the 2018 midterm as a win. “I thought it was very close to complete victory,” the president said the day after the election. What about the 40 Republican House seats that were lost? Trump's view: “In the House, Republicans dramatically outperformed historical precedents and overcame a historic number of retirements.” Many Republicans lost, Trump said, because they decided, for their own reason, “not to embrace . . . me or what we stand for.” In other words, it's their own damn fault.

What Republicans really won was the expectations game. Every election has a phantom candidate called “expected.” It's not enough to win: You have to do “better than expected.” If you do “about as well as expected,” it's no big deal.

This year, Democrats were expected to take the House, while Republicans were expected to keep the Senate. On election night, viewers were told that's what happened. No big deal.

But it was a big deal. Within days, we found out that Democrats gained a phenomenal 40 House seats, the most since Watergate. Republicans slightly expanded their Senate majority, from 51 to 53 seats. But that was a modest gain given the fact that Democrats were defending 26 Senate seats, ten of them in states that Trump carried in 2016.

The fact is 2018 did see a blue wave; it just wasn't immediately apparent on election night.

President Trump spent the entire campaign rallying his base. Those are the only voters he cares about. He pays no attention to swing voters and makes no effort to appeal to them. He holds gigantic rallies in red states where he basks in the adulation of his core supporters. To the consternation of his fellow Republicans, the president did not run on the economy, an issue that might have won a lot of swing votes. Instead, he made a deliberate decision to run on the issue that he believes got him elected in 2016 — immigration. “It's an invasion,” Trump declared at a Tennessee campaign rally. “I don't care what the fake media says.  That's an invasion of our country!”

Trump expects another base campaign to carry him to victory in 2020. That may not work. If you run a base campaign, you not only bring out your own base — you also bring out your opponents. This year, Democratic House candidates got nearly 10 million more votes than Republican House candidates.

One thing could really sink Trump's re-election prospects, and it's got Trump advisers nervous — a recession. The economy has been growing for nearly ten years now, and many economists believe the U.S. is overdue for a recession. Stock market turbulence, the trade war with China, rising debt and the worldwide slowdown in economic growth are all troubling signs.

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What would Trump do if the country were hit by a recession? He might revive his long-awaited $1 trillion infrastructure program. In his victory speech on election night 2016, Trump pledged, “We're going to rebuild our infrastructure, which will become . . . second to none. And we will put millions of our people to work as we rebuild it.”

Democrats may support an infrastructure program. “Look, this guy's a builder. He gets it,” the incoming Democratic chairman of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee said. “It sounds like the president is sincere and wants to deliver.”

He probably does. Authoritarian rulers love huge public works that show off national greatness like new airports, tunnels, roads and bridges (Trump would probably want many of them named for him). Conservatives would very likely balk at the cost. Another federal spending spree! New taxes!

But Trump got elected by defying conservatives like Ted CruzRafael (Ted) Edward CruzOcasio-Cortez and Cruz's dialogue shows common ground isn't just for moderates Ted Cruz, AOC have it right on banning former members of Congress from becoming lobbyists Ted Cruz, AOC have it right on banning former members of Congress from becoming lobbyists MORE and Marco RubioMarco Antonio RubioElection security bills face GOP buzzsaw Election security bills face GOP buzzsaw The Hill's Morning Report — Uproar after Trump's defense of foreign dirt on candidates MORE. If they complain about a new infrastructure plan, Trump will simply say, “Forget 'em. They're losahs.”

Bill Schneider is a professor at the Schar School of Policy and Government at George Mason University and author of ‘Standoff: How America Became Ungovernable (Simon & Schuster).