On Tuesday, President Donald Trump broke with typical Republican protocol and openly announced that he’d be willing to shut down the government if it meant securing funding for his border wall. Facing down incoming Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) in the Oval Office, Trump dismissed calls to negotiate behind closed doors and announced that he’d be more than willing to take the blame for such a shutdown. “I will be the one to shut it down,” Trump said. “I will take the mantle of shutting it down … I am proud to shut down the government for border security, Chuck.”
Trump was obviously irritated with Pelosi and Schumer – but particularly Schumer, who insisted on ignoring Trump and talking directly to the cameras. Trump has demanded $5 billion for the building of a border wall. Democrats insist that Trump only be funded to the tune of $1.3 billion for border protection. “If there’s not border security, I won’t take it,” Trump stated.
Pelosi responded, “Unfortunately, this has spiraled downward … You will not win.” Schumer slammed Trump by stating that he was being babyish because “you can’t get your way,” adding, “the last time you shut it down you got killed [politically].”
Pelosi and Schumer were ecstatic after the meeting that Trump had announced he would own the shutdown; even in the meeting, Pelosi dropped the term “Trump shutdown” in an initial branding attempt. She told Democrats that Trump had been pushed into acknowledging “that the shutdown was his,” and then added that Trump’s wall was “like a manhood thing for him … as if manhood could ever be associated with him. This wall thing.”
As of December 21, a partial government shutdown will commence, particularly affecting the Departments of Homeland Security, Transportation, Agriculture, State and Justice.
So, here’s the question: if the government shuts down, will that truly spell doom for the Republicans? Republicans have always assumed that the answer is yes – that the American people will be so annoyed by a government shutdown that they will insist that Republicans cave to Democratic priorities. But this is precisely the reverse of the logic Republicans should apply. Republicans, after all, insist that the government is too big and does too much; when the government shuts down, zombies don’t walk the streets, nor do pensioners go without Social Security checks, nor do Medicaid recipients end up collapsing on the streets. Mandatory spending continues; only non-essential workers are furloughed.
All of which means that Republicans shouldn’t be shy of a shutdown. They should say that they’d prefer not to shut the government down, but that we’re not going to sacrifice border security for a little more temporary government comfort.
With that said, Trump shouldn’t claim the shutdown – he should obviously state that the government is shutting down only because Democrats refuse to hand over funding to secure the nation. That happens to be the truth. By saying he’d “own” the shutdown, he’s given Democrats a golden sound byte they will use no matter what, claiming that Trump himself knows that the default position is non-funding for the border wall.
That’s bad politics. But it certainly wasn’t bad politics for Trump to go toe-to-toe with the Democrats over the border security issue. Most Americans can’t understand why it should be controversial to properly fund border security, with or without a wall. That’s a winning issue for Trump, if he can only play his hand correctly – and Trump has yet to go up against Democrats publicly and come away looking significantly worse.