Donald Trump entered the holiday season with a bulletproof plan for advancing his electoral and legislative goals: He would sabotage the basic functioning of the government that he presides over, so as to draw attention to the fact that the Democratic Party does not support an extremely unpopular immigration policy. Or, more concretely, he would refuse to fund the federal government until congressional Democrats agreed to appropriate upwards of $5 billion for his border wall (even though the Republican Senate had already signaled that it was willing to fund the government without such an appropriation, and Democrats would only need to wait a matter of days before they assumed control of the House).
And yet, somehow, the government has been (partially) shuttered for six days now — and the Democrats have yet to surrender.
The president took to Twitter Thursday morning to express his incredulity, writing, “Have the Democrats finally realized that we desperately need Border Security and a Wall on the Southern Border…Do the Dems realize that most of the people not getting paid are Democrats?”
The latter half of this missive makes little sense as a public argument for Trump’s position. “My political opponents are putting their principles above the special interests of their constituents” is not typically an attack-line in American politics. The president’s observation that federal workers are more Democratic than Republican serves no argumentative purpose; it is, ostensibly, a mere expression of exasperation at his rivals’ perseverance (one reminiscent of another infamous spoiler of the Christmas season).
Alas, as I’ve already insinuated, the causes of Chuck Schumer’s intransigence shouldn’t be hard for the president to understand. The American public has long been inclined to blame presidents for any governmental dysfunction that transpires on their watch (this insight was the cornerstone of Mitch McConnell’s rationale for adopting a posture of unwavering obstruction during the Obama presidency). A large majority of Americans has long opposed both Trump’s border wall, and the use of government shutdowns as a legislative tactic. So, the president’s plan to pin responsibility for this week’s chaos on Democrats was a long shot even before he announced, on live television, that voters should blame him for the shutdown.
A new Reuters/Ipsos poll confirms that Trump has not been able to overcome a flawed strategy through the strength of his execution:
More Americans blame President Donald Trump than congressional Democrats for the partial U.S. government shutdown … forty-seven percent of adults hold Trump responsible, while 33 percent blame Democrats in Congress, according to the Dec. 21-25 poll, conducted mostly after the shutdown began.
… Just 35 percent of those surveyed in the Reuters/Ipsos poll said they backed including money for the wall in a congressional spending bill. Only 25 percent said they supported Trump shutting down the government over the matter.
Meanwhile, Trump’s approval rating in Morning Consult’s polling just dipped below 40 percent for the first time since he defended the “very fine” neo-Nazis who marched in Charlottesville in the summer of 2017.
Granted, it’s possible that Trump never intended this shutdown to yield funding for his border wall, or a bump in his approval rating. The president’s aim may have been merely to retain the enthusiastic support of his base. Trump has long jealously guarded the adoration of those who attend his rallies, and the White House’s resident nativists have proven quite effective at persuading the president that any conciliatory gesture on immigration would irrevocably alienate his core supporters.
Nevertheless, a president with a 40 percent approval rating — who just suffered a historic rebuke in a midterm election — should not be sacrificing his standing with the general public for the sake of waging a doomed crusade on behalf of his loyalists.