Shut­down would feed Trump’s ego

Hawaii Tribune Herald - - COMMENTARY - By JONATHAN ALLEN Jonathan Allen is a colum­nist for CQ-Roll Call.

Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump is tak­ing an un­usual risk for a pres­i­dent: He’s set­ting him­self up as the cen­tral player in a pos­si­ble govern­ment shut­down.

“If we have to close down our govern­ment, we’re build­ing that wall,” he said last Tues­day in Ari­zona, re­fer­ring to the bar­rier he promised to con­struct be­tween the United States and Mex­ico.

Trump’s tac­tics don’t line up with the con­ven­tional pres­i­den­tial strat­egy of avoid­ing govern­ment shut­downs — or at least sidestep­ping blame.

It should be hard for him to point a fin­ger at Repub­li­cans in Congress when he is openly threat­en­ing to cause a shut­down. It will be even harder for him or his in­creas­ingly gun-shy al­lies on Capi­tol Hill to blame Democrats be­cause Repub­li­cans con­trol both cham­bers of Congress and the White House. And it will be much eas­ier for Congress to pass a spend­ing bill with­out the money than with it.

He’s set­ting him­self up to take it on the chin, leg­isla­tively and in terms of be­com­ing a light­ning rod for vot­ers who sud­denly can’t get the ser­vices for which their tax dol­lars pay. So, what is Trump up to? I think he wants to take credit for the wall and a shut­down — at least he’s po­si­tion­ing him­self that way.

It’s hard to think of con­vic­tions more core to the rise of the Tea Party than opposition to il­le­gal im­mi­gra­tion and a rein­ter­pre­ta­tion of small-govern­ment con­ser­vatism into no-govern­ment con­ser­vatism. By court­ing a shut­down, Trump can be a cham­pion of both prin­ci­ples.

He wouldn’t be the first Repub­li­can of­fi­cial to con­clude that tak­ing re­spon­si­bil­ity for a govern­ment shut­down is more a mat­ter of get­ting credit than shoul­der­ing blame. Ask Sen. Ted Cruz. The Texas Repub­li­can forced a shut­down in late 2013 de­spite the plain­tive cries of fel­low Repub­li­cans who were (mis­tak­enly) cer­tain the de­ba­cle would doom them to de­feat in 2014 and pos­si­bly 2016.

Rather than be­com­ing the goat who ate the Repub­li­can Party, Cruz so­lid­i­fied his po­si­tion as a hero to many grass­roots GOP vot­ers. Though he didn’t win the Repub­li­can nom­i­na­tion in 2016, he proved the most re­silient of Trump’s com­peti­tors.

If Trump were un­will­ing to shut down the govern­ment to get the wall, he’d be demon­strat­ing to his vot­ers that he doesn’t have the grit or de­ter­mi­na­tion to go all the way for their shared top leg­isla­tive pri­or­ity. He would be show­ing weak­ness; and that is nei­ther Trump’s strength nor a way to please his base.

His premise, for now, seems to be that a govern­ment shut­down would cause so much po­lit­i­cal pain for law­mak­ers that they would ul­ti­mately choose to pass a spend­ing bill with money for the wall rather than con­tinue to suf­fer the wrath of con­stituents bereft of govern­ment ser­vices.

But one es­sen­tial truth re­mains: most Amer­i­cans don’t want the wall. It’s hard to see how halt­ing govern­ment oper­a­tions will force Congress to fund it.

Rather than Congress ac­ced­ing to Trump’s wall dream, maybe he needs to cause his own vot­ers enough pain through a shut­down that they ul­ti­mately de­cide it’s OK for him to give in.

That would hold ev­ery­one else in the coun­try hostage for a while — maybe a long while — but it would pre­vent Trump from dis­ap­point­ing his base by fund­ing every govern­ment func­tion other than the very sym­bol of their anti-il­le­gal-im­mi­grant fer­vor.

So, Trump backed him­self into a po­lit­i­cal cor­ner, but it’s the one that is fa­mil­iar and com­fort­able to him. He is stand­ing with his base. Maybe he will back down in the end, but it seems that is his op­tion of last re­sort.

The most con­sis­tent el­e­ment of Trump’s po­lit­i­cal pro­file is his al­le­giance to his base — of­ten at the ex­pense, many fel­low Repub­li­cans think, of the rest of the party. And if there’s one thing that base loves more than the wall, it’s the prospect of dis­rupt­ing the govern­ment.

A shut­down might not serve the best in­ter­ests of Repub­li­cans in swing districts and states in the mid-term elec­tion or of the party’s hopes of keep­ing the White House in 2020, but it would feed the id of his move­ment. Don’t ex­pect him to back down in the face of a shut­down. It seems pretty clear that he’s set­ting him­self up to take credit for one.

Repub­li­can lead­ers who think that will hurt the party should be fig­ur­ing out how to line up veto-proof two-thirds ma­jori­ties to keep the govern­ment run­ning. If they don’t, it could be a very long au­tumn in Wash­ing­ton — and a very long fall for the GOP — be­fore Trump feels like he’s los­ing.

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