Just days after insisting that any spending bill to keep the federal government open include more than $1 billion for his proposed border wall, President Trump backed off that pledge -- abruptly ending the expected brinksmanship between the White House and Congress expected to dominate the week.
"Not this week," White House counselor Kellyanne Conway said of the push for $1.4 billion as a downpayment for the border wall in a Tuesday morning interview with Fox News. "Building that wall and having it funded remains an important priority to him," she added. "We also know that that can happen later this year and into next year."
That rapid cycle of demand-to-capitulation is enough to give you whiplash. But wait! There's more!
Trump tweeted Tuesday that his changed position wasn't a change at all, but that ignores the fact that he demanded something that now won't be in the spending bill.
Or will it? A White House official told CNN's Jim Acosta that Trump expects money for the border wall to be included in the bill this week.
The simple political fact is that a government shutdown would be a massive political problem for Republicans. They control both chambers of Congress and the White House -- and everyone knows it. Blaming Democrats for their intransigence would be a non-starter in such a situation. The full weight of the blame would fall on Republicans -- particularly Congressional Republicans, many of whom have to stand for re-election in 18 months time.
Republicans are still struggling to prove to a skeptical public that they can be a governing party not just the loyal opposition. Shutting down the government for even a day would be proof point #1 for Democrats to make the argument that Republicans are unsuited to lead. And doing so over a border wall proposal that's not popular outside a portion of the Republican base would be even more disastrous.
Trump, unlike, say, Ted Cruz, is not the sort of person to charge at political windmills. He wants to win, first and foremost. And the way to win is to pick fights where success is the very likely outcome.
Trump punted because punting made political sense. His potential reversal on punting may be an attempt to save some face -- perhaps by extracting a smaller amount of money to be included in the bill to fund some portion of the wall.
What's more baffling to me is why he floated the $1.4 billion allocation for the border wall in the first place. Was it a trial balloon to see if Congressional Republicans might be open to it? An attempt to work the refs a bit so when the next spending debate comes up Trump has set the floor of what he wants to see spent on the wall? Or was it just something Trump said one day and then quickly realized was going nowhere?
With Trump the line between strategy and sounding-off is a fuzzy one. But, regardless of his reasoning, Trump blinked -- and blinked quickly -- in his second major showdown with a Republican Congress. Worth noting: He also blinked the first time, telling Speaker Paul Ryan to pull the healthcare bill before it even came to a vote.
There appears to be a pattern emerging.