House Democrats have Donald Trump surrounded, and he’s being forced to play defense on all fronts, even as pro-impeachment poll numbers continue to climb. There’s no straight line for Trump to find his way out of this mess, and it’s becoming more clear by the day that he’s not going to survive this. So he’s doing what he does best: trying to paralyze us by threatening to do something horrible to us.
Since taking office, Donald Trump has proven himself to be almost uniquely incompetent at politics. His agenda has stalled out; his approval rating is in the gutter; he can’t make his scandals go away; he loses every political battle he takes on. But the one trick he’s consistently able to make work for him is to make a very loud threat that he knows he can’t carry out, and use it to paralyze and distract everyone while he very quietly pulls some other antics instead. It keeps working because so many people choose to keep falling for it.
Back when Trump was publicly threatening to fire Robert Mueller and pardon all his own underlings, the media and the public became so obsessed with this scenario – even though it was never going to happen – everyone overlooked the fact that the Trump regime was secretly kidnapping immigrant kids from their parents and locking them in cages. There are endless other examples of this. It’s simply how Trump operates. If he’s publicly threatening to do something, he’s very probably not going to do it. If Trump is planning to do something, he’s very probably not going to publicly threaten to do it.
This brings us to the events of the past week, in which Donald Trump and his regime are doing everything they can to make us think that they’re about to invade Iran. Trump is deranged, but he also knows how to make his derangedness work in his favor. If he convinces us he’s about to take us to war, then he doesn’t actually have to do it. Considering the number of Resistance members on social media who have assumed we’re about to go to war, and are paralyzed with fear accordingly, Trump’s plan is working.
Even if Trump is bluffing, as he is 98% of the time when he makes these kinds of threats, it’s still egregious on his part. But Trump makes egregious threats every few days. He always has. Remember when he was explicitly threatening to nuke North Korea? Just because Trump is threatening to invade Iran, it doesn’t mean we drop everything and obsess over it.
Trump has spent his time in politics making clear that he understands how a land war invasion can quickly blow back on a president. Since taking office, the only military action that Trump has taken has been as secretive as possible, in places like Yemen and Niger. Of all the public threats he’s made about military action, zero of them have come to fruition. Again, Trump rarely does what he’s threatening to do, and rarely threatens to do what he ends up doing. John Bolton loves war, but he’s not in charge here.
The reality is that war only boosts a president’s prospects if he’s already fairly popular to begin with. Trump is so deeply unpopular, more people want him impeached than approve of him. If he tried to invade Iran, it would have negative repercussions for him immediately. In fact it would probably do more to boost the odds of his immediate ouster than any other scenario.
Donald Trump is hoping that the mere threat of invading Iran will be enough to get the media to stop covering his scandals, get the House Democrats to stop pursuing his scandals, and get the Resistance to sit in the corner and cower instead of working to defeat him. Trump doesn’t have a magic wand. There’s very little he can pull off right now. His best remaining tactic is to bluff us into submission. Even as we keep one eye on the Iran situation, it’s equally important not to become obsessed with it. Trump’s entire goal here is to scare us into submission, and that can’t happen.
Bill Palmer is the publisher of the political news outlet Palmer Report