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Amy Walter of the Cook Political Report: “Trump Is Unifying Democrats Instead of Consolidating His Base”

 

Cook Political Report’s Amy Walter is out with a must-read analysis that deconstructs the current environment around the shutdown fight and Trump’s border wall. She concludes, “what’s keeping the Democratic caucus from splitting in two (or three, or four) is that debate isn’t about immigration anymore. It’s about a wall. And, even his own base isn’t convinced that a wall is worth it.”

Walter’s piece is excerpted below and available online here.

The other day, I asked a House Democratic member who has been in D.C. for a few years, if he thought that Democrats would find themselves battling their own ‘Tea Party’ insurgency. Would the forces led by Rep. Alexandria Ocasio Cortez soon be in open-warfare against leadership? He told me he wasn’t worried. First, he said, Speaker Pelosi’s skill as a leader and strategist were exemplary, far and above anything that former GOP Speakers John Boehner or Paul Ryan possessed. But, more important, he said, was Trump himself. Serving as a check on the president is the glue that keeps the Democratic caucus together.

The battle over the wall and the ensuing government shutdown has put that ‘unifying’ factor into stark relief. First, all the polling released in the last week shows that Trump, not Democrats are taking the blame for the shutdown. Moreover, Democratic voters are more united in the sentiment that it’s Trump fault than Republicans are united that the blame should fall on Democrats.

Trump’s decision to center the debate solely on the construction of a wall (or fence or barrier or steel slats), has also has helped to consolidate Democrats. By now, Republicans had warned us in numerous ads over the 2018 campaign, Democrats would be hosting anti-ICE protests and defending sanctuary cities. The ‘open borders’ liberals would be forcing suburban, swing seat members to choose between their moderate constituents and their liberal allies in Congress. But, what’s keeping the Democratic caucus from splitting in two (or three, or four) is that debate isn’t about immigration anymore. It’s about a wall. And, even his own base isn’t convinced that a wall is worth it.

A Pew Research Poll (Jan. 9-14) found that most Republicans, 76 percent, approve of the way Trump is handling the shutdown including 50 percent who strongly approve. But, that doesn’t match the intensity of disapproval by Democrats: 93 percent of Democrats disapprove of Trump’s handling of this shutdown situation, including 87 percent who disapprove strongly! Not surprisingly, how you feel about the president colors one’s opinion of who should take the blame for the shutdown. Among those who disapprove of the president, 88 percent put the blame on him. Those who approve of Trump as president blame Democrats. But, it’s not universal. About three-quarters (77 percent) of Trump approvers blame Democrats for the mess of the shutdown, but almost a quarter (23 percent) blame the president.

… If there were any sort of White House ”strategy;” on the shutdown (and yes, I use strategy loosely), it seemed to be based on three assumptions:

  1. The wall — Trump’s central campaign promise — would unite and animate the Trump/GOP base
  2. Democrats would be divided — potentially even upending Nancy Pelosi’s ascension to Speaker
  3. Trump would be sure-footed on his favorite, and more politically favorable, turf of immigration and security, while Democrats would fumble and stumble.

But, here we are almost a month later, and the polling data — and subjective data as well — suggest that all three of those assumptions have failed to come true. Not a great sign for any other big battles the White House plans to engage in for the next year.