At midnight on Friday Trump’s disastrous shutdown entered its fifth week. Although the president himself is immune to the financial consequences, many millions of Americans are not immune, and are starting to suffer. We are hearing reports of federal workers being evicted from their homes, going to soup kitchens, and selling off their possessions at pawn shops and on Craigslist.
As the pain continues for millions, Trump’s political allies are starting to panic, because every opinion poll shows that the vast majority of American voters blame him — and Senate Republicans — for the shutdown.
And the president’s historically-low approval numbers have been dropping even further every day that the shutdown continues.
Trump’s allies are rightly concerned about the political impact of Trump’s shutdown but they have a problem: the president himself. He believes he is winning the shutdown battle and that he will ultimately prevail.
He’s right that he has the strong support of his base, which constitutes only 20% to 30% of the voting public. He doesn’t seem aware that his base alone cannot carry him and his party to victory in 2020.
According to new reports, former employees in his own White House don’t believe that he fully grasps the odds he faces, or how he is losing the support of many people who voted for him in 2016.
“The president jumped without looking first,” said one former White House official. “And can you imagine the humiliation the president would bring on himself if he caved and got little or nothing in return?”
And the president’s offer yesterday didn’t do anything to move the needle in his favor. In fact, by offering a compromise to Democrats it actually hurt him among his most hardcore anti-immigrant supporters.
Trump is going out of his way to hurt and belittle Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, which further decreases his chances of getting a deal he likes from the Democratically-controlled House.
Both sides have said that there is no real path forward for a compromise right now.
And as 800,000 federal employees — and millions of federal contractors — go without pay for a second month, the political fallout suffered by Trump and the GOP could be severe.
Some people close to Trump have said they can’t see him ever giving in and losing face. They believe that he can’t let down his base on such an important issue. This is why many of them still believe that declaring a national emergency is the best way forward for Trump to resolve the impasse.
Steve Bannon, the president’s former chief strategist said recently:
“I just don’t think he has any alternative except to declare a national emergency. The Democrats have no intention, ever, of giving him a penny for the wall.”
Bannon also maintains that building the wall is crucial for Trump to have a chance of winning reelection in 2020.
“If you do not have a wall fully under construction, you are not going to get a second term,” Bannon warned.
And Bannon’s views are in line with conservative media commentators such as Rush Limbaugh, Ann Coulter and Michelle Malkin. They have egged Trump on to demand substantial wall funding, which led to him causing the shutdown in December.
Former Speaker Newt Gingrich (R-Ga.) said last week that “Trump has to win on the border security issue. He has no choice.”
As Trump appears firm in his resolve, many other Republicans who will be up for reelection in 2020 are wavering.
At least three Republican senators — Susan Collins (Maine), Lisa Murkowski(Alaska) and Cory Gardner (Colo.) — have called for the government to be reopened. A handful of others senators have expressed misgivings about Trump’s hardline position also.
Recently a top GOP strategist — Karl Rove — warned GOP senators that to avoid losing the Senate in 2020 they would need to recapture independent and suburban voters. And Trump’s hardline immigration stances will not do that, Rove said.
Immigration hawk Stephen Miller also favors the declaration of national emergency, but many others within the party do not.
Those who are opposed to a national emergency declaration believe such a move would get tied up in the courts for a long time and would do no good.
Opinion polls throughout the crisis have made uncomfortable reading for the president and his allies. Five major opinion polls have been released on the shutdown since the start of the year — from the Pew Research Center; PBS News Hour; Quinnipiac University; CNN; and ABC News and the Washington Post. In all five, blame for the shutdown has been assigned primarily to Trump and the GOP by voters.
Results like that ensure that the pressure on Democrats to make concessions to Trump is negligible.
But even some Republicans who criticize Trump don’t believe he is about to back down, either.
“There is going to have to be some kind of compromise as this shutdown is felt more broadly outside of Washington, D.C.,” said Doug Heye, a former communications director of the Republican National Committee. “But the idea that Trump is going to cave ‘just because’? I don’t think that holds a lot of merit.”
Even if that is true, it is not easing the concerns of some Trump allies that the president has dug himself a deep hole and is fighting a battle that will be very hard to win.
“He’s hurting himself with swing voters now to avoid hurting himself with his base,” the former White House official lamented. “He’s boxed in and doesn’t really have anywhere to go and Democrats know it.”
The problem for the country — and for the millions of American‘s affected by Trump‘s shutdown — is that even though Trump is losing, he doesn’t see it. Before this disaster ends there will be much more damage inflicted on the country. Hopefully either Trump or Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell will see that sooner than later, and take the steps they must take to end the shutdown.
I am a lifelong Democrat with a passion for social justice and progressive issues. I have degrees in writing, economics and law from the University of Iowa.