The political incentives surrounding a government shutdown can be tricky, but the principal goal for most partisans is to avoid responsibility for the fiasco. The public tends not to like it when elected officials create self-imposed crises, which is why politicians usually scramble in situations like these to point fingers at their rivals.
As Donald Trump gets ready to shut down the government tonight, he turned to Twitter this morning to dip his toes into the blame-game waters.
“Senator Mitch McConnell should fight for the Wall and Border Security as hard as he fought for anything. He will need Democrat votes, but as shown in the House, good things happen. If enough Dems don’t vote, it will be a Democrat Shutdown!”
No, actually it won’t, and no fair-minded person could possibly take this seriously. Indeed, Americans just last week saw one prominent politician make a compelling case that the president would bear sole responsibility for this mess.
I believe it was Donald J. Trump.
“I am proud to shut down the government for border security, Chuck, because the people of this country don’t want criminals and people that have lots of problems and drugs pouring into our country. So I will take the mantle. I will be the one to shut it down. I’m not going to blame you for it…. I will take the mantle of shutting down.”
But while it’s easy to laugh at Trump’s flailing efforts, there’s a larger political dynamic unfolding that the president doesn’t seem to understand.
Trump is prepared to shut down the government over an unpopular idea. It’s not as if the president is sticking to his guns because he knows the American mainstream is behind him, cheering on the cause. It’s the exact opposite.
The White House will argue that a giant border wall was part of Trump’s 2016 platform. That’s true. But’s it’s also true that he received fewer votes than his principal opponent, which makes it a little tough to claim a popular mandate.
What’s more, just last month, there were national congressional elections, during which the president traveled extensively, pushing, among other things, his wall proposal. Republicans proceeded to lose at least 40 U.S. House seats, and in the process, forfeiting control of the chamber.
In fact, as party leaders have reflected on what went wrong for them in the 2018 cycle, they’ve found evidence that the GOP’s “focus on immigration in the final days repelled moderates,” especially in the suburbs.
It’s against this backdrop that Trump believes he shouldn’t just shut down the government over a border wall, he also thinks he can credibly blame Congress’ Democratic minority.
This is a strategy that will fail.