Since the government shutdown began five weeks ago, Donald Trump has been preoccupied with maintaining "unity" among Republicans. For the GOP president, this borderline obsession makes a degree of sense: the more his party splinters, the sooner his gambit fails.
But as Trump is probably realizing, simply saying that the party is unified, over and over again, does not make it true.
Two weeks ago, the New York Times reported that Senate Republicans had not yet reached a breaking point, but Sen. Pat Roberts (R-Kan.) told the newspaper, "We're getting pretty close." It seems safe to say they're closer still now.
The Senate took up two bills yesterday to re-open the government -- Donald Trump's blueprint and a clean Democratic bill -- and White House hopes for a strong showing were quickly dashed. The president's "plan," for lack of a better word, garnered just 50 votes. The Democratic alternative picked up a half-dozen Republican supporters and finished with 52 votes -- despite the fact that this is a GOP-led chamber.
It was the day Republicans started to turn against one another in earnest. The Washington Post reported:
Exasperated GOP senators complained to Vice President Pence at a closed-door lunch, according to senators, but Pence offered few specifics while seeking to reassure lawmakers that there were other options under consideration."There was a lot of frustration expressed about the situation we find ourselves in," said Sen. John Cornyn (R-Tex.).
By one account, Senate Republicans read the vice president "the riot act."
A separate Washington Post report added that GOP senators "clashed with one another" at the private meeting, with Senate Homeland Security Committee Chairman Ron Johnson (R-Wis.) telling Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), "This is your fault."
A week ago this morning, the president declared that he's "never seen the Republican Party so unified." It was hard to take seriously at the time, and it's plainly laughable now.
The intra-party fissures have a practical salience that extends well beyond the political embarrassment. It was obvious from the outset that the shutdown fight would unite Democrats and divide Republicans, and when congressional Dems get together, they're not pointing fingers at one another the way GOP officials did yesterday. But five weeks later, the cracks in the partisan (ahem) wall suggest Trump's leverage is gone.
Politico published a report last night, noting that White House officials "aren't sure of their next move. But they do know one thing: they're losing, and they want to cut a deal."
That's a fine idea, except their boss said he won't re-open the government without a "large down payment" on a border wall. Trump added yesterday that he's interested in "a prorated down payment for the wall," whatever that means.
Chuck Schumer's office added last night that Democrats "will not support funding for the wall, prorated or otherwise." Nancy Pelosi told reporters she doesn't know what "a prorated down payment" is -- and she doesn't think Trump knows, either.
Welcome to Day 35 of the longest shutdown in American history.