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On the shutdown, Americans aren't buying what the GOP is selling

Jared Kushner told Joe Manchin the public would side with the White House and Democrats would have to yield on wall funding. Yeah, about that...
Snow begins to gather on a statue outside the Capitol Building in Washington, DC, Dec. 10, 2013.
Snow begins to gather on a statue outside the Capitol Building in Washington, DC, Dec. 10, 2013.

The day before Donald Trump delivered an Oval Office address on immigration, Jared Kushner called Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.), by most measures Congress' most conservative Democrat, and a lawmaker who's generally eager to work on bipartisan agreements. Did the White House reach out to the West Virginian about a possible compromise?

Not exactly. The New York Times  reported late last week that Kushner explained to Manchin that Trump would not budge: unless Democrats wanted the shutdown to continue, they'd have to approve funding for a border wall. As part of the same conversation, the article added, Kushner "left the senator with the impression that the White House believed public opinion would be on the president's side after the speech, and that Democrats would simply have to relent."

There's fresh evidence that those assumptions were backwards.

By a wide margin, more Americans blame President Trump and Republicans in Congress than congressional Democrats for the now record-breaking government shutdown, and most reject the president's assertion that there is an illegal-immigration crisis on the southern border, according to a Washington Post-ABC News poll.

A majority of Americans (54%) oppose the president's dream of a giant border wall. A nearly identical number (53%) blame Trump and his party for the ongoing government shutdown, which is now the longest in the nation's history.

As for White House plans for a national-emergency declaration, in which Trump would grant himself the power to spend money on a wall in defiance of Congress' wishes, Americans are opposed to the idea by more than a 2-to-1 margin (66% to 31%).

Making matters worse for the GOP, despite Trump's incessant talk about the "crisis" at the border, just under a fourth of the country (24%) endorses the president's characterization of the status quo.

The results from a new CNN poll are no better for Trump: it found 56% of Americans oppose a wall and 55% blame Republicans for their shutdown.

The practical implications of results like these matter.

Part of Trump's "plan," to the extent that he has one, involves leveraging public support to pressure Democrats into paying his ransom. That strategy has effectively imploded: the GOP base may generally be on board with the latest developments, but the American mainstream clearly isn't buying what Republicans are selling.

Democrats have no intention of backing down, and given the degree to which the public agrees with them on the issue, they have no incentive to yield, either. The result is a dynamic in which all of the pressure rests on the GOP's shoulders.

As the shutdown extends into its fourth week, the public argument is over. Trump's campaign to persuade the public failed.

The only card the president hasn't yet played -- declaring a national emergency -- would only leave him in a worse political position. In effect, Trump is telling Democrats, "Give me what I want or I'll move in an even more unpopular direction."

If the president thinks this will force Dems to retreat, he's badly confused.

Trump has made no secret of the fact that he sees the government shutdown as a zero-sum political game -- which he's certain is going his way. The president has characterized the whole endeavor as a "total winner." Reality is pointing in a very different direction.