Why the Shutdown Fight Makes No Sense … and Could Last a Long Time

Why the Shutdown Fight Makes No Sense … and Could Last a Long Time

Joshua Roberts

This shutdown is already one of the longest since modern budget rules took effect in 1976 — and it could drag on for a while. One reason, as Bloomberg’s Jonathan Bernstein points out: Both sides probably think they’re winning.

Democrats know they’ll take control of the House on Thursday and that polls show Americans blame Trump more for the shutdown. The latest Economist/YouGov poll finds that nearly half of those polled say Trump is more to blame, compared to 35 percent for congressional Democrats. And 40 percent say that Trump should accept the $1.6 billion Democrats had previously agreed to provide for border security, while another 19 percent say Trump should accept less than $5 billion he has demanded.

In Trump’s case, though, it’s not quite clear what winning means. He’s demonstrated his willingness to fight for a barrier of some kind on the border with Mexico, keeping his conservative base behind him, but he doesn’t appear to be any closer to securing funding for a wall. And as the shutdown continues, Trump may risk alienating Republican lawmakers. “The incentives for congressional Republicans to stick with him are already unusually low, and now he’s shutting down the government over a policy that few of them care about very much,” Bloomberg’s Bernstein says. “At the same time, his foreign-policy decisions are angering many in his party and financial markets are in turmoil.”

Trump is volatile and unpredictable. He had little leverage to force Democrats to agree to his wall funding demands, but chose to force a shutdown anyway. He has even less leverage now. He could continue the standoff, or he might decide to accept a deal that doesn’t meet his demands and seek to spin it as a victory. “It’s impossible to predict how these negotiations will end,” Bernstein says, “because one side isn’t guided by logic.”

The New York Times Editorial Board suggests that, at some point, the pain inflicted by the shutdown may start to weigh on Trump, forcing him to back down from what they see as an “empty political stunt” and begin genuine negotiations: “After all his bluff and bluster, if the president backed down now, he would incur the wrath and ridicule of hard-right pundits like Rush Limbaugh and Ann Coulter, who seem to call the shots in this White House, as well as die-hard supporters who still think a concrete wall — or at least some ‘artistically designed steel slats’ — will Make America Great Again,” they write. “But there is likely to be a limit to how much Mr. Trump can make Americans suffer for an empty political gesture.”

The bottom line: Wednesday’s unproductive meeting with congressional leaders may be an indication that we’re nowhere near that limit yet.