Funding for the “border”? That’s not what MAGA Nation was promised.
We didn’t want “money for the border.” That’s a ruse. We asked for “money for the wall.” https://t.co/od1jU3FsLD
— Ann Coulter (@AnnCoulter) December 20, 2018
“Border” money is probably the best he can do under the circumstances. Ben Shapiro’s scenario for how this ends seems plausible enough. Trump will need some sort of concession to save face before ending the shutdown but there’s no way, no chance, no how Democrats will agree to $5 billion for the wall. The compromise will either be some lower token amount of wall funding or a more robust number for “border security” with little to nothing earmarked for the wall specifically.
1. McConnell “compromises” to include border security funding but no wall funding;
2. Trump claims victory, says he will find a way to build the wall;
3. Democrats claim they’ve stopped Trump from building the wall.https://t.co/3aBHXwz6la
— Ben Shapiro (@benshapiro) December 20, 2018
Asking what Trump will get from this standoff is the wrong question. The point of these futile attempts to use shutdowns as negotiating leverage is never to “win.” Even if Democrats were open to funding the wall, they wouldn’t reward brinksmanship like this by agreeing to fund it under threat. Cave this time and Trump will try it again with a different GOP priority next time.
The point of futile-shutdown politics is branding. If you’re a populist who ran against the milquetoast establishment, you have to show your base eventually that you’ll fight. Ted Cruz led a futile shutdown attempt to block ObamaCare in 2013 for the same reason. He’s a smart guy; he knew he didn’t have the numbers to win. But the point wasn’t to win, it was to brand Cruz as a “fighter” ahead of the 2016 primaries, the guy who would battle to his last breath for populist causes even when he knew it was a big ol’ waste of time. In fact, the futility of a shutdown stunt arguably makes it more appealing to the target audience. Only the truest of true believers, the most devoted, fight for a lost cause.
Trump beat Cruz in 2016 running as the bigger, better fighter. But he’s already caved once this year, signing the omnibus spending bill months ago despite its lack of any wall money. He took heat for that from his base, complained about it to his aides, then swore publicly afterward that he’d never sign a bill that terrible again. Now he has to prove that he meant it. On top of that, he’s vowed for months that he’d shut down the government to show his seriousness of purpose in building the wall. To cave without a fight now, with Pelosi days away from taking over, would be a terrible show of weakness.
Mark Meadows and Jim Jordan also rely entirely on their reputations as “fighters” for support so they’re all-in on the futile shutdown too. The beauty of it in their case is that, when it fails, blame can be laid off on the mealy-mouthed RINOs in the rest of the caucus who refused to shut down the government for months to get the wall built. No matter what happens, Meadows and Jordan come away with their reputations enhanced among the wing of the party to whom they cater. Trump, as the lone vote-caster in the executive branch, is positioned differently. Unlike them, barring an unlikely two-thirds override in Congress, he’ll have to compromise and approve a deal to end the shutdown. There’s peril for him here potentially that doesn’t exist for the people in the House who are egging him on.
This is part of it too:
What this shutdown farce will do is make sure Republican legislators really hate Trump, even as they fear him far less
— John Podhoretz (@jpodhoretz) December 20, 2018
There may be enough retiring or defeated Republicans who already hate him and have no reason to hang around Washington to bail him out of this mess to ensure that wall funding can’t get a majority in either the House or (temporarily) the Senate. This doesn’t sound good:
CORKER: “Mitch is on the phone with Paul now, so….” *corker starts laughing*
Q: Why are you laughing?
Corker: “Well, why not?”
Corker: “Ya’ll have fun! I may not see ya’ll again for a while…”
Q: You’re not going to come back from TN for votes?
Corker: “I doubt it.”
— Frank Thorp V (@frankthorp) December 20, 2018
If Corker and Flake go home for good, McConnell would have to try to pass any Trump-backed plan with a 49/49 Senate. No margin for error.
The other peril is that whatever Trump ultimately agrees to with Pelosi and Schumer will disappoint his MAGA base to some degree. That’s a luxury Coulter, Limbaugh, and other righty commentators have that Trump doesn’t. They can demand total victory and not have to worry about the logistics of engineering it or the fact that Democrats have zero incentive to provide it. I mean this only half-jokingly: If retiring Republicans are about to skip town, why doesn’t POTUS invite Ann and Rush to fly into D.C. and lead the GOP negotiations for him? We keep getting futile shutdowns because most of the people cheerleading for them have no real political or reputational skin in the game. Let red-state America’s populist heroes quarterback the negotiations with Pelosi to secure wall funding this time. It’d be like an amazing, very special celebrity-studded episode of “The Apprentice.”
Gonna ask again: Does Trump’s wall demand have the votes to pass the Republican House, let alone the Senate?
Carlos Curbelo, whose loss Trump ridiculed, will oppose $5B for wall. Other Rs also are expected to vote no.
Curbelo criticized leaders for listening “to the extremes.” Asked if leaders communicated next plan to them after $5B fails, Curbelo said: “I don’t think they have one.”
— Manu Raju (@mkraju) December 20, 2018
The House rebelling against Trump and blocking wall funding right up front would be one of the most elegant ways out of this mess for Trump — maybe even the ideal way realistically. If the wall’s not going to be funded and if the point of futile-shutdown politics is branding, especially branding by contrasting yourself with the more lily-livered members of your party, then the best outcome for POTUS is to have moderate Republicans kill this standoff early. Then Trump can avoid a shutdown while placing all the blame on Ryan and the centrists in the House. His base will love him even more for having been willing to fight when other weaker Republicans wouldn’t, never mind that he swore in 2016 that he’d steamroll all opposition. The only person who’d be mad at him is Coulter, but Coulter’s always idolizing Republicans and then turning on them (Romney, Christie) when they don’t deliver whatever she’s demanding on immigration. Trump will be just fine.
Exit question: How much of a stock-market slide is he prepared to tolerate as the shutdown plays out? He’s a man who obsesses about his “numbers,” be they TV ratings, job approval, or the Dow Jones.
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