Why Trump Thinks He’s Winning the Shutdown Fight

Why Trump Thinks He’s Winning the Shutdown Fight


Here’s your shutdown update in one word: Stuck.

The partial government shutdown is now heading for its 25th day, four days longer than the previous record, and both sides remain firmly dug in on their positions.

President Trump said Monday that he shot down a suggestion by Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) that he reopen the government for three weeks while negotiations continue over funding to build a wall along the border with Mexico, and then declare a national emergency if those talks yielded no progress. “I want to get it solved. I don’t want to just delay it,” Trump told reporters.

The president also said he’s not yet prepared to declare a national emergency in order to bypass Congress to fund construction of a border barrier — a move that would be met with immediate court challenges and set off a constitutional clash.

“I’m not looking to call a national emergency,” Trump said, though White House officials said that an emergency declaration was still possible as a “last resort,” according to Politico.

The Washington Post reported over the weekend that, in the December days before the shutdown began, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell warned Trump that he had no leverage and would be “boxed in a canyon.” Outgoing House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WI) told Trump he saw no way to win.

And yet here we are, weeks later, with White House aides and advisers still not sure about how the president plans to resolve the shutdown, according to Politico.

Polls Show Trump Losing the Public Messaging Battle

National polls leave little doubt that Trump and the Republicans are bearing most of the blame for the continued standoff — though the president is maintaining his strong support among Republicans and is deflecting at least some attention from blockbuster new reports emanating from the investigation into Russia’s election meddling.

  • A CNN poll released over the weekend shows 55 percent blame Trump while 32 percent point the finger at congressional Democrats. Fifty-six percent of respondents oppose trump’s wall, and 45 percent say the situation at the southern border is a crisis.
  • Similarly, a new Washington Post-ABC News poll found that 53 percent of respondents say the shutdown is primarily the fault of Trump and Republicans while just 29 percent blame Democrats. Fifty-four percent oppose Trump’s border wall, and just 24 percent call the border situation a crisis. “Not a single part of Trump’s framing has taken hold with a majority of the American public,” writes Washington Post Opinions editor James Downie.

Trump, however, doesn’t see it that way. He’s reportedly touted some of the results of the Washington Post-ABC poll — the ones showing that support for a border wall has increased to 42 percent, up from 34 percent last January, according to CNN.

Trump’s Strategy: 'Not Going to Budge'

New York magazine columnist Jonathan Chait suggests that Trump has three plausible ways to end the shutdown:

  1. Cave and let the government reopen while blaming Congress for failure to build his wall,
  2. Try to make a larger deal in which he gets border wall money in exchange for a path to citizenship for Dreamers or some other concessions to Democrats,
  3. Declare a national emergency, even with the inevitable political fallout and despite warnings from some conservatives about the dangerous precedent it would set.

Trump has chosen none of the above.

“I do have a plan on the Shutdown,” Trump tweeted on Saturday. “But to understand that plan you would have to understand the fact that I won the election, and I promised safety and security for the American people. Part of that promise was a Wall at the Southern Border. Elections have consequences!”

Outwardly at least, that plan seems to be to insist on getting exactly what he wants and see if moderate Democrats crack. (“Many of them are calling and many of them are breaking,” Trump told reporters Monday, though there’s been no public indication that’s true — but a number of Republicans have broken with Trump and called for reopening the government without a deal on the wall.) Axios reported that Trump chastised his acting chief of staff, Mick Mulvaney, during a meeting with lawmakers earlier this month after Mulvaney tried to compromise with Democrats on a dollar figure for wall construction. Trump cut him off, saying “You just f----d it all up, Mick," according to the Axios report. And a source described as being familiar with Trump’s mindset told CNN, "He's not going to budge even 1 inch."

Whether you see that as being admirably resolute and principled or childishly obstinate and reckless, the practical effect is the same: There’s still no end to the shutdown in sight. “At some point, the economic and political costs of the shutdown will accumulate to such a level that either Trump agrees to end it, or a veto-proof supermajority of his fellow partisans override him,” Chait speculates. “How long that takes is hard to say.”