Despite being the early first quarter, many are calling Team Trump’s game over already. Of course, many booing loudest hope Trump loses and wishes their team were in there. From both sides of the stadium, what these far from unbiased observers miss are the many facets of the game and long time remaining in it.
In Washington, politics is sport, and in American sports, football is king. The gridiron therefore makes the perfect metaphor for a president’s performance. For his very vocal critics, Trump has started with a bad game plan and badly executed plays, resulting in a series of unforced miscues and penalties. Effectively, he lost the game at the coin-toss and only the lopsided scores remains to be run up.
However politics, like football, has more subtleties than its smash-mouth demeanor first reveals. Both are comprised of more than a single drive; they are played for four quarters, not just one; and they require both offense and defense. Those thinking Team Trump’s drive already stalled need to see the whole game.
As Bear Bryant, Alabama’s immortal football coach, observed: “Offense sells tickets, but defense wins championships.” Defense is no less important for presidencies — in fact, constitutionally, that is its primary power, via the veto, in the legislative process. In that regard, Trump can be credited with one of the greatest “goal line stands” in presidential history.
Many now writing Team Trump off as having already lost, had also earlier written-in Team Clinton as having already won. Hillary was “first and goal” heading into the election and virtually universally acclaimed unstoppable. This was in part due to Trump’s dismissal, but also to Republicans’ dismal past — in the previous two elections Democrats had plowed through virtually untouched.
Instead, Trump came up with “the big stop” at the crucial time. A Clinton touchdown would have meant at least 12 years and — considering only three elected presidents seeking reelection in the last century have failed to win — likely 16 of continued Democratic White House control. Not just a consolidation of Obama’s liberal policies, but an extension and likely expansion of them, would have resulted.
So, even if Team Trump did nothing else after taking away the ball on Republicans’ own goal line, and went “three and out” — or more appropriately, “four and out” for a presidency — that stand alone was worth a lot. However, Team Trump has continued to play well on the defensive side of the ball, signing Congressional Review Act rollbacks of Obama regulations, reversing others via executive orders, and stopping actions that would otherwise have taken place.
Critics point to the offensive side of the ball as Team Trump at its worst. Admittedly, it has not been the “ticket seller” Bear Bryant dismissed. So far, there have been none of the flashy long yardage passes down the field. Obamacare is still un-repealed and tax reform still un-done. However, that does not mean that Trump has not looked downfield for them, and it does not mean that he will not complete such throws later.
More pertinent, it is worth looking at how “the game” is being played of late. Just because the ball has changed hands does not mean field conditions change with it. For some time, they have been remarkably poor for a “deep bomb” strategy.
Washington gridlock has turned the presidential gridiron into a ground-slog of selective small gains. The last successful major presidential initiative was Obamacare — over seven years ago. For Republicans, their major legislative shutout stretches back to the early part of George W. Bush’s presidency.
Obamacare came with overwhelming Democratic Congressional majorities. Republicans do not have anything approaching that. And to that point, it is not as though Trump is not signing what Republicans are sending him. A quarterback’s performance is rarely better than the line in front of him.
Trump has little choice but to take what field conditions and the defense have given him. Yes, these are relatively shorter gains versus longer aspirations, but there have been gains nonetheless. And Republicans should again remember: These are yards they were not picking up before him, would not be getting without him, and if smaller than desired, are simply commensurate with the opportunities given him.
Despite defeatism overhanging the Washington stadium, the game is still closer to kickoff than over. Of course Team Trump has made mistakes and will continue to, but both apply to the other team too. That is football and politics.
Democrats, so chagrined at being turned back from the end zone they had come to think they owned, are understandably enraged. They want to see Team Trump quickly punt their ball back to them. In the meantime, while they sit and watch, they will continue to complain about the officiating and that the other team cheats and plays poorly.
Republicans, so long accustomed to losing the big game, are unsurprisingly quick to fall into their familiar “wait ’til next year” mindset. They want to see a hero of their past take the field under conditions no longer existing, and return the game to the way it used to be. In the present, they need to remember that you play the game with the team you have, and that the game would already have been over if Trump had not been on the field.