This is a grim moment for President Trump and his fellow Republicans.
A Trump-boosting Republican member of Congress has been indicted on charges of insider trading — from the White House, no less. Trump’s former campaign chairman and another former aide are squabbling in court over who is the bigger criminal. And in a closely watched special congressional race in Ohio — a seat Republicans have held for 35 years in a district Trump won by 11 points and Mitt Romney by 10 — the Republican was clinging to a 0.9-percentage-point lead Wednesday despite Trump’s intervention and vast sums of Republican dollars.
In situations such as these, there is only one thing for Trump to do: declare victory.
“Congratulations to Troy Balderson on a great win in Ohio,” Trump proclaimed, even though the number of uncounted provisional and absentee ballots meant the race could not be called. Trump further declared it “a great victory” in a “very special” race.
Even if Trump’s man wins, it’s hardly a triumph to eke out a victory for a seat that is competitive only because of Trump’s unpopularity. But actual victories are not a prerequisite for Trump’s declarations of victory.
“Tariffs are working big time,” Trump announced this week, though his tariffs have provoked layoffs and plant closures and forced Trump to announce $12 billion in emergency aid to farmers.
“Because of tariffs we will be able to start paying down large amounts of the $21 Trillion in debt,” added Trump, though we’re actually celebrating a substantial increase in the debt at the moment.
After his meeting in Singapore with North Korea’s Kim Jong Un, Trump summarily declared that there “is no longer a Nuclear Threat from North Korea.” He said Americans can “sleep well tonight.”
Hopefully they are sleeping so soundly that they slept through the subsequent news that North Korea is still creating fissile materials and expanding its missile program and, as Trump’s national security adviser, John Bolton, admitted, “has not taken the steps we feel are necessary to denuclearize.”
After his meeting with NATO partners in Brussels, Trump said it “was an acknowledged triumph” (acknowledged by him, at least) and “everyone has agreed to substantially up their commitment.”
Amid the victory celebration, it might have been missed that NATO member nations had not actually offered to increase their defense spending commitment beyond the 2 percent of gross domestic product by 2024 they had already pledged — in 2014. Party pooper Emmanuel Macron, the French president, pointed out that leaders’ agreement merely “confirms the goal of 2 percent by 2024. That’s all.”
In May, Trump said that drug companies would in two weeks “announce voluntary massive drops in prices.” Instead, they announced increases.
Trump attacked Pfizer for the increase, and when Pfizer agreed to postpone it until the end of the year, Trump declared victory again in July: “Great news for the American people!”
A big win! Never mind that prices had not gone down, and, as Bloomberg News reported, at least 10 other drugmakers raised prices while Trump was celebrating the Pfizer win.
At best, the presidential victory decrees are premature — the equivalent of giving the coach a Gatorade shower when you’re down three touchdowns at halftime. “We’re going to win so much you’re going to get tired of winning,” Trump used to promise. But will people tire of Trump saying we’re winning when the scoreboard indicates otherwise?
“Mission accomplished,” Trump declared after his strike on Syria, yet the war continues and the Assad regime endures.
“The end of the ISIS caliphate is in sight,” Trump proclaimed, though the latest reports indicate a resurgence by the terrorist group in Iraq.
“The Summit with Russia was a great success,” Trump exulted, as his performance met universal criticism.
“Big win in the House,” Trump announced during Republicans’ doomed attempt to repeal Obamacare.
“Perhaps one of the biggest wins,” Trump said July 27, is a “$52 billion” drop in the trade deficit in the second quarter of 2018. As it turned out, it was more like $20 billion, and even that may have been a blip.
You can see where this is going. If actual achievements are not required for declarations of success, Trump can merely claim that he already made America great again. “Our country’s in great shape. We’re so strong again,” he said at a rally last week. “‘Make America Great Again’ will morph into ‘Keep America Great!’”
Maybe this isn’t such a bad thing. Facing daunting prospects in 2020, Trump might decide his best move is to declare victory — and step down.
Follow Dana Milbank on Twitter @Milbank.