Trump’s dreaded nickname

By Gail Collins

I’ve got to say I loved it when Joe Biden described Donald Trump as “the former guy.”

This was at a CNN town hall, and Biden was pursuing his goal of changing the subject from … his predecessor. Part of the strategy seems to be avoiding his actual name.

Excellent agenda. Sitting in disgraced, double-impeached political purgatory, Trump has been trying to retrain the world to refer to him as “the 45th president” during his unwelcome retirement. (If you are lucky enough to get a mass email from him, the return address will be “45 office.”) How cool would it be if he had to sit in front of the TV listening to people talk about “the former guy?”


Biden’s current mission is to make the world focus on his $1.9 trillion plan for a coronavirus comeback. It’s currently in the House, where the Democratic majority is expected to pass it readily, once the poor bill makes its way through all the subcommittee chairs who want a little poke at it. But sometime in March it’ll be in the hands of Sen. Chuck Schumer, whose majority consists entirely of Kamala Harris breaking tie votes.

Hey, that’s entertainment. Schumer is not necessarily the most exciting politician on the planet, but he works like a demon. I’ve known him since the 1980s, when he was in the House and he was one of the very few members of Congress who had both young children and a full-time working spouse.

(Another, Rep. Pat Schroeder, had two small kids and a lawyer husband. People, add to my list if you can come up with anybody else. I do like this kind of factoid.)

You’ve got to be a little grateful to the senators for staging this big game. The Super Bowl is over. The weather’s deadly. You can’t go out to a party, and you don’t want to admit you’re still watching “The Bachelor.”

Schumer is up against now-minority leader Mitch McConnell, who isn’t exactly what you’d call charismatic. But he did make a very big play with his public denunciation of Trump’s behavior during the Capitol riot: “a disgraceful dereliction of duty.” Which would have been extremely moving had it not come right after he was voting against impeachment conviction.

Trump — excuse me, The Former Guy — was certainly paying attention. “Mitch is a dour, sullen, and unsmiling political hack,” he responded in a statement. Feel free to enjoy the fact that he wasn’t allowed to tweet it.

Think of McConnell as a classic — “Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde” comes to mind. Some people might have been surprised that he could despise Trump while tossing him a supportive vote. But just remember, this is the guy who has attacked the idea of federal aid to state and local governments as a “blue state bailout.” Despite the fact that his old Kentucky home receives an estimated $2.61 in federal money for every dollar of taxes the state sends to Washington.

Best not obsess about McConnell too long. Whenever he comes on TV or pops up on your cellphone saying something depressing, drop everything and do eight push-ups. If you don’t like exercise, memorize all the former presidents. By summer, you’ll either be in good shape or know exactly who came after Millard Fillmore.

Meanwhile, there’s Schumer, who I want you to think of as the Tom Brady of the Senate Democratic Caucus. Really, we’re trying to have a little entertainment here. And Brady has a long history of playing with the same number of people on both sides. Yeah, the Senate is split 50-50, so on party-line votes, Schumer needs every one of his members to come through.

That includes people like Joe Manchin of West Virginia. Under normal circumstances you would not be sitting on the edge of your seat wondering what Manchin might say next. But he’s not always predictable. Like rain. Or Pennsylvania voters.

Exciting as we desperately hope March politics is going to be, we’re going to have to gird ourselves for some deeply senatorial delays. Like a filibuster. Remember a valiant Jimmy Stewart passing out from exhaustion after talking endlessly to protect a plan for a national boys’ camp in “Mr. Smith Goes to Washington”? Well, OK, that was in a 1939 movie. How about Strom Thurmond ranting for more than 24 hours to try to derail civil rights? Ted Cruz talking for 21 hours in an attempt to kill Obamacare? These days, you can get bathroom breaks, and valiant is in the eye of the beholder.

The bottom line here, people, is that Biden’s plan to attach a $15 minimum wage to the coronavirus bill is probably doomed. (Spiked by the senator from West Virginia!) And then most of the package will pass, probably before we get halfway down the vaccine line. Movie’s over.

But we’ve still got Trump, desperate for our attention. The Former Guy says he’s going to devote himself to permanently remaking the Republican Party in his own image. Unless, of course, he gets hauled off to debtors’ prison first.

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