Talking Points

How Trump set up the infrastructure deal he now opposes

Donald Trump has come out against the bipartisan infrastructure bill, but if the proposal passes with Republican support — still a big if — we will probably have Trump himself to thank.

Still banned from Twitter, Trump on Wednesday issued a statement blasting "RINO" Republican members of Congress who might be tempted to vote for the $1 trillion package. "It is a loser for the USA, a terrible deal, and makes the Republicans look weak, foolish, and dumb," he said. "Don't do it Republicans — Patriots will never forget! If this deal happens, lots of primaries will be coming your way!" For now, at least, congressional Republicans seem to be ignoring the former president.

The obvious problem with Trump's threat is that it's so transparently hypocritical. As Politico notes, Trump himself pitched a $1 trillion infrastructure plan as a presidential candidate — and nearly backed a $2 trillion package in 2019, only to blow it up in an Oval Office meeting where he announced he wouldn't work with Democrats in Congress until they stopped investigating him. (They didn't.) Trump isn't arguing there is anything wrong with the bill itself; he just doesn't want President Biden to win a victory that he was unable or unwilling to achieve himself.

More than that, Trump's presidency probably put a deserved final nail in the coffin of the GOP's long-cultivated image as the party of fiscal hawkishness. Even before the pandemic, Trump piled up huge amounts of federal debt — much of it driven by his party's giant 2017 tax cut which mostly benefited the rich. And one of Trump's last acts as president (besides inciting the insurrection against Congress) was his failed effort to send $2,000 stimulus checks to every American.

Deficit scoldery has long been the GOP's most potent weapon to hem in Democratic ambitions. It's part of the reason Bill Clinton actually balanced the federal budget, and why Barack Obama's 2009 stimulus during the Great Recession was smaller than it should have been. But given their own role in Trump's recent budget-busting history, this era's congressional Republicans can't plausibly make an argument that Democrats are spending too much money to fix roads, bridges, and airports. Indeed, they've barely bothered. He may be angry now, but Trump did the most important job on any infrastructure project: He laid the foundation.