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The absurdity of the ongoing government shutdown over the border wall implicates a President who is in over his head and can’t find an exit strategy that feeds his ego. Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and Senate Republicans are not operating as a co-equal branch of government, but as cowardly yes men who coddle Trump’s incompetence, narcissism and nativism. Below are three pieces that shed light on the current moment.
Michael Gerson, Washington Post columnist and former George W. Bush speechwriter, captures this in a must-read column entitled “Trump is turning a budget crisis into a constitutional crisis — all for a fool’s impulse.” Gerson writes:
So far: President Trump has announced a crisis that isn’t actually a crisis — requiring a wall that is not really a wall, funded by Mexican pesos that are really U.S. tax dollars — to keep out murderous migrants who are (as a whole) less violent than native-born Americans, leading to congressional negotiations that involve no actual negotiations, resulting in a government shutdown undertaken on the advice of radio personalities, defended in an Oval Office address that consisted of alarmism, prejudice, falsehood and other material caught in the P-trap of senior policy adviser Stephen Miller’s mind.
One conservative claimed that Trump finally looked “presidential.” Actually, we are seeing the federal government — Trump supporters and opponents — trying to explain and respond to an impulsive, emotive, selfish, irresponsible and fundamentally irrational force at its center. It is like the immune system responding to a virus it has never seen before and cannot defend against. Trump walks in and out of meetings, repeating scraps of his stump speech, unpredictable to his staff, unconcerned about the pressure on his allies, contemptuous toward congressional opponents and with no apparent end game except their total surrender.
This is a case study in failed and erratic leadership. The shutdown happened because the president — under pressure from partisan media — reneged on a commitment to sign a spending bill the Senate had passed and that the House was ready to pass. Then, during an Oval Office meeting with the Democratic leaders, he said he would gladly own a shutdown, presumably because he figured it would look good on TV. Trump apparently did this without talking to congressional Republicans or his own staff. Congressional Republicans and his own staff were then forced to defend Trump’s impulse as a strategy. But this has proved difficult, because Republicans have no leverage. So now the whole GOP is left pretending there is an emergency at the border, and that a multiyear construction project is somehow the best way to deal with an emergency.
This is the Republican legislator’s lot in the Trump era — trying to provide ex post facto justifications for absurd presidential choices. The border “crisis” did not break because of some tragedy caused by a porous southern border. It did not result from some serious determination of national security priorities. The whole GOP strategy, and all the arguments they are using, are really backfill for an intemperate choice made by a president in response to media coverage.
…security arguments would certainly be at the core of Trump’s justification for declaring a national emergency and building the wall with U.S. troops — if he makes that choice. Then, the ignorance, arrogance and stubbornness of one man would turn a budget crisis into a constitutional crisis — and turn Republican defenders into abettors of creeping authoritarianism. All to justify a fool’s impulse.
Another must-read piece is a Vox piece by Li Zhou and Tara Golshan, entitled “The shutdown could end when Senate Republicans decide to end it.” The piece notes:
As the shutdown continues to drag on, and neither Trump nor the Democrats give any indication of caving, the focus is increasingly on GOP members of the upper chamber, who overwhelmingly passed a spending bill without wall money in December and have the ability to stop this impasse if they want to.
Meanwhile, a batch of state polling released yesterday by Public Policy Polling and sponsored by the Immigration Hub and MoveOn captures that Senate Republicans running for re-election in 2020 may face a political backlash over their role in the shutdown. As Cameron Joseph notes in a Talking Points Memo article on the polling:
The surveys suggest that the ongoing shutdown could hurt a number of Republicans facing 2020 reelection fights in the states that will likely determine who controls the Senate after the next election — including in some GOP-leaning states.
…In Alaska, Arizona, Colorado, Georgia, Iowa, Maine and North Carolina, voters disagree with Trump by double-digit margins that “government should be kept closed until he gets funding for the wall.” Voters also oppose spending billions to construct a border wall along the U.S.-Mexico border in all seven states, though those numbers are a bit closer. And voters in all seven states say by double-digit margins that their Republican senator’s support of Trump on this issue is making them less, not more, likely to vote for their reelection.