From Greg Ip: In Davos, Nobody Knows Anything, and That’s the Problem

The raison d’être of Davos is intelligence gathering. Hedge funds go to chat up CEOs, CEOs go to chat up politicians, politicians go to chat up donors, and journalists go to chat up everyone.

This year, all that chatting is yielding distressingly little intelligence, and that helps to explain why the mood here, and indeed over the world economy, seems so dark.

Here are the questions people here most want answered: How will Brexit be resolved? No one knows, certainly not British parliamentarians or cabinet ministers. When will the federal government shutdown ends? Nobody knows. Will the U.S. and China reach a deal to avoid all-out trade war by March 2? Nobody knows. This isn’t because no one from the Trump administration is here; if they were, they wouldn’t know, either (or so the people here who have dealt with Trump have concluded).

In the economy uncertainty is, of course, a constant. Businesses, markets and investors are used to working with probabilities rather than certainties, whether it’s the outlook for profits or interest rates. But with today’s problems you can’t even assign probabilities. Since Mr. Trump himself does not seem to know what he wants out of the China trade talks, how can you judge the odds and provisions of a deal?

How do you assign a probability to Mr. Trump or Democrats breaking a promise to their bases, as would be necessary to end the partial federal shutdown? Shutdowns used to treated as localized natural disasters, Harvard economist Ken Rogoff noted on a panel moderated by Journal editor Matt Murray: painful for those involved but without national repercussions. This shutdown, he said, is like one local disaster after another, each worse than the one before. In such a situation, “We don’t know what happens.”

As for Brexit, French finance minister Bruno Le Maire, asked about reopening the European Union’s deal with Britain, shrugged: “It’s up to the British people and British politicians to decide what they want.”

“Nobody knows anything,” screenwriter William Goldman once said of making hit movies. Too bad he died last year; he could have taught Davos a thing or two.

For Democrats, Shutdown Success Also Brings Danger

Stick around Washington long enough and you will learn a simple rule: Success also brings risk. Danger comes calling when the winning side in a political fight either overreaches in its hour of triumph or fails to turn newly won political capital into something useful.

This is the risk for Democrats right now. There is no doubt they won—convincingly—in their showdown with President Trump over his demand for billions of dollars to build a wall along the southern border. They stared down the president during a monthlong partial government shutdown, and in the end they got exactly what they were demanding: a temporary reopening of the government without providing any money for the wall.

First, they now have spent the opening period of their new control of the House of Representatives focused not on their priorities—health care in particular—but instead on Mr. Trump’s top priority, immigration.

Second, the shutdown prevented the new Democratic House leadership, and all those new House members elected last November, from starting off by demonstrating they can govern effectively.

..  A new Wall Street Journal/NBC News poll shows that positive feelings about the Democratic party fell to 35% this month from 39% in December. That means the share of Americans who have positive feelings about Democrats is essentially no different from the 34% who have positive

This is the greatest blunder of Trump’s presidency

There is no way around it: President Trump lost.

He lost his gamble on shutting down the government. And though he will pretend otherwise, he has also lost his grandiose plan to build a border wall that most of the country does not want.

Trump walked away with nothing more than an assurance from congressional Democrats that they will sit down with Republicans for three weeks and try to come up with a border security plan that both parties can agree upon. There’s a reasonable chance they will come up with a solid proposal. But there’s just as much likelihood that Trump’s dream for a wall will die a quiet death there.

Nonetheless, this is the consequence of Trump’s obsession with satisfying the red-hatted, nativist throngs who chanted “build the wall” at so many of his rallies.

Not only do 6 in 10 Americans now disapprove of the job that the president is doing, but his party has also lost the 10-point edge it once held over the Democrats on the question of which party to trust on border security, according to a fresh Post-ABC News poll.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) has shown that she better than Trump understands the art of the deal in Washington. She is the one who succeeded in building a wall — and Trump ran right into it.

Now, as Trump surveys the shambles that his greatest blunder has made of his presidency, the question is whether he and the Republicans learned anything from the five-week calamity that they caused. Will his party be as willing to follow him the next time he leads them toward the edge of a cliff?

If there is even a thin silver lining to the travesty of the longest-ever government shutdown, it is this: The Republicans’ slander of public servants has been exposed for what it is.

When the shutdown began, conservative pundits assured themselves that few Americans would notice or care, because only a quarter of the government was not being funded. By its final day, there was turmoil at airports, slowdowns at the Internal Revenue Service and countless individual stories of federal workers who were forced to find sustenance at food pantries and face agonizing choices between whether to pay for heat or medicine this month. In the Post-ABC poll, 1 in 5 people said they had personally been affected by the shutdown.

The stereotype of government employees as pampered, overpaid, Washington-bound bureaucrats has been around for many years. Republicans have long portrayed them as the enemies of reform and efficiency.

But Trump targeted them as no one did before. From his earliest months in office, he and his allies have portrayed those who dedicate their lives to serving their country as the corrupt, subversive “deep state” — the bottom-feeders of a swamp in need of draining.

As the shutdown began, Trump first made the absurd suggestion that 800,000 government workers were happy to give up grocery and rent money for a construction project on the U.S.-Mexico border that would stand as a monument to the president’s vanity. Then he contradicted himself in a tweet that declared it was largely his political enemies who were feeling the pain: “Do the Dems realize that most of the people not getting paid are Democrats?”

Where a little empathy might have been in order as the shutdown continued, Trump’s team revealed a callousness that would have made Marie Antoinette blush.

Trump economic adviser

  • Kevin Hassett said furloughed workers should be celebrating the fact they were getting time off without having to use vacation days. “In some sense, they’re better off,” he told PBS NewsHour. Commerce Secretary
  •  Wilbur Ross, a billionaire who pads around in custom-made velvet slippers, expressed bewilderment that federal workers would go to food banks instead of taking out a loan from a bank or credit union. And
  •  Lara Trump, the president’s daughter-in-law, dismissed their ordeal as “a little bit of pain, but it’s going to be for the future of our country.”

So it was noticeable that when Trump made his Rose Garden announcement Friday that the government was opening again, he began it by thanking federal workers who had displayed “extraordinary devotion in the face of this recent hardship. You are fantastic people. You are incredible patriots.”

On that point, Trump was absolutely right. Government employees have shown they are all that and more. Which is why they deserve much better than a chief executive who would wager so recklessly with their lives and their livelihoods.

Jared Kushner, a Confident Negotiator, Finds Immigration Deal to Be Elusive

Jared Kushner, the president’s son-in-law, was confident in his ability as a good-faith negotiator who could find a compromise to end the government shutdown.

His pitch to Democratic lawmakers was simple: He told them he was the person who could “land this plane.”

Buoyed by his success in helping pass a criminal justice bill, Mr. Kushner, a senior White House adviser, agreed to take the lead when the president asked him to find a way to end the monthlong stalemate. He hoped his experience winning over Democrats skeptical of the Trump administration during negotiations for that measure would produce a similarly successful conclusion.

But negotiating a broad immigration deal that would satisfy a president committed to a border wall as well as Democrats who have cast it as immoral proved to be more like Mr. Kushner’s elusive goal of solving Middle East peace than passing a criminal justice overhaul that already had bipartisan support.

For one, Mr. Kushner inaccurately believed that moderate rank-and-file Democrats were open to a compromise and had no issue funding a wall as part of a broader deal.

“If Jared Kushner thinks there is any daylight between House Democratic leadership and rank-and-file members on this issue, then the extent that he lands this plane it will land in the Alamo,” said Representative Hakeem Jeffries, Democrat of New York.

And Democratic leaders like Senator Chuck Schumer, party officials said, did not believe that Mr. Kushner had the power to circumvent Stephen Millera senior policy adviser to the president. In meetings, they also noticed, Mr. Kushner appeared to prop up Mr. Miller as an expert on immigration, noting that Mr. Miller’s reputation as a hard-liner was out of sync with his reasonable nature.

On Friday, President Trump did what Mr. Kushner had privately insisted was not an option on the table: He folded.