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Donald Trump was never going to be anything other than a terrible president. His political persona was crafted in the racism of birtherism, and to that he added misogyny and vicious cruelty.
But it’s interesting to ponder how he might have been a more formidable president. After campaigning as a populist, he cast his lot with the likes of Paul Ryan and Mitch McConnell. His only real legislative achievement was a massive tax cut that benefited rich people and corporations — the sort of thing any Republican president might have done. The Trump who was going to replace the Affordable Care Act with something better never made an appearance. For that matter, that version of Trump didn’t really exist except on Twitter.
We got a glimpse of the other road Trump might have taken over the past week, when he threatened to veto the COVID relief bill unless payments to individuals were raised from $600 to $2,000. His intervention came was cynical and poorly timed, given that his treasury secretary, Steven Mnuchin, had negotiated the deal with no apparent pushback (or even involvement) from the president.
And yet here we are. Trump finally backed down and signed the bill. Yet, because of his intervention, there seems to be at least some chance that the individual benefit will be raised to $2,000. The House on Monday approved $2,000 payments — no surprise, since the Democratic majority wanted to do that all along. But they were joined by 44 Republicans, and now the legislation will be taken up by the Senate.
Would a half-dozen or so Republican senators join Democrats in approving the higher payments if McConnell allows the measure to come to a vote? Possibly — especially given that two Senate seats in Georgia are on the line.
In the final days of his presidency, golfing and tweeting dangerous conspiracy theories about an election he decisively lost, Trump has showed us a glimmer of how his time in the White House might have been different. No doubt it still would have been awful. But it might have been slightly less awful for the MAGA types who continue to trust him even though he has done nothing but let them down.