In­stinct has taken him a long way, but slope is get­ting slip­pery

USA TODAY US Edition - - FRONT PAGE - Susan Page

WASH­ING­TON – You might as­sume a govern­ment shut­down that is about to set an un­wel­come record and is be­ing bat­tled over fund­ing for a bor­der wall most Amer­i­cans op­pose just might leave Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump itch­ing to make a deal.

You would be wrong.

In a com­bat­ive ex­change with re­porters Thursday as he left the White House for a day trip to Texas, wear­ing a cam­paign “Make Amer­ica Great Again” hat, Trump de­nounced as dis­hon­or­able the Demo­cratic lead­ers who would have to ne­go­ti­ate any agree­ment. He ac­cused his op­po­nents of not car­ing about vi­o­lent crime and na­tional se­cu­rity. And while he said the word “com­pro­mise,” he gave no in­di­ca­tion he was ac­tu­ally will­ing to give an inch on his de­mand for fund­ing the wall.

Trump at­tributes his spec­tac­u­lar rise

in pol­i­tics to the shrewd­ness of his gut, the power of his blus­ter and his com­mand of a core of sup­port­ers. He has bragged not about progress to­ward re­solv­ing the stand­off but about the unity of Repub­li­cans be­hind him, al­though a few GOP sen­a­tors have ex­pressed con­cern about the shut­down. It would be­come the long­est in his­tory on Saturday. “They all want to see some­thing hap­pen, but they are ex­tremely united,” he de­clared. “It’s re­ally a beau­ti­ful thing to see.”

But the costs and com­pli­ca­tions of the shut­down con­tinue to in­crease, with se­cu­rity lines get­ting longer at some air­ports, trash pil­ing up at na­tional parks and 800,000 fed­eral work­ers about to miss a pay­check Fri­day. A Politico/Morn­ing Con­sult poll re­leased this week showed Trump bear­ing the brunt of the blame: About half of the Amer­i­cans held the pres­i­dent re­spon­si­ble; a third blamed con­gres­sional Democrats.

Among Repub­li­cans sur­veyed, though, the blame went to Democrats al­most 5 to 1. Trump’s rat­ing within his party ac­tu­ally ticked up a few per­cent­age points since the shut­down, with 84 per­cent ex­press­ing ap­proval of the job he’s do­ing as pres­i­dent.

Since his in­au­gu­ra­tion, Trump has made more ef­forts to hold the sup­port of those who voted for him than he has to ex­pand his ap­peal to those who didn’t. That helps ex­plains his un­yield­ing stance now in a stand­off that would have prompted most of his pre­de­ces­sors to seek a set­tle­ment and move on.

“By all ob­jec­tive stan­dards, it’s all down­side for him – ex­cept for one,” Mo Ellei­thee, a veteran Demo­cratic strate­gist and ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor of Ge­orge­town Univer­sity’s In­sti­tute of Pol­i­tics and Pub­lic Ser­vice, said in an interview. “That’s his base. His base is lov­ing it. They’re eat­ing it up.”

Thursday on Capi­tol Hill, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi tweaked con­gres­sional Repub­li­cans for that unity, for re­fus­ing to break with Trump on this or just about any­thing else. “Did you take an oath to the Con­sti­tu­tion or to Don­ald Trump?” she point­edly asked. Then she warned that Trump could put his par­ti­san sol­i­dar­ity at risk if he de­liv­ers on his threat to de­clare a state of emergency as a way of by­pass­ing Con­gress for wall money.

“I think the pres­i­dent will have prob­lems on his own side of the aisle for ex­ploit­ing the sit­u­a­tion in a way that en­hances his power,” she said, a ref­er­ence to con­cerns from Florida Sen. Marco Ru­bio and other Repub­li­cans that fu­ture Demo­cratic pres­i­dents would feel em­pow­ered by the use of emergency dec­la­ra­tions to pur­sue pol­icy goals. “I think he’s go­ing to have to an­swer to his own party on usurp­ing that much power.”

Trump gave no sign of be­ing de­terred: “I have the ab­so­lute right to de­clare a na­tional emergency.”

On Day 20, the end of the shut­down didn’t seem to be get­ting closer. For her part, Pelosi didn’t sig­nal any will­ing­ness to re­lent. In a tweet, Trump blamed “Democrats in­tran­si­gence” as he an­nounced he was can­cel­ing a trip to the World Eco­nomic Fo­rum in Davos, Switzer­land, be­cause of the shut­down.

His de­par­ture was slated for Jan. 21 — when the shut­down would hit Day 31.


Texas Sens. John Cornyn, left, and Ted Cruz join Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump on a bor­der tour Thursday.

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