President Donald Trump stepped up, put his big-boy pants on, and took the mantle of leadership. “I’ll take responsibility for shutting it down, I won’t blame you for it,” he famously told Chuck Schumer in the Oval Office. “I’ll be proud to do it.” Not much space for misinterpretation there, is there?
And Trump got his wish. The latest Reuters/Ipsos poll shows that 51% of Americans now hold Trump personally responsible for the 19 day shutdown of the government, while only 32% hold the Democrats in congress responsible. As detective Joe Friday used to say on “Dragnet,” “Just the facts ma’am, just the facts.”
OK, here’s a couple of very quick and simple facts from the polling. The newest poll shows a+4 increase of people who hold Trump responsible as opposed to a similar poll taken only a couple of days after the shutdown started. Simply put, the longer the shutdown goes on, the more the blame pendulum swings in Trump’s direction. It also shows that Trump is now nearly 20 points underwater on the “blame game” on the shutdown, leaving the Democrats a distant second in a race that they don’t want to win. And third, 32% is far below the alleged “floor” of Trump’s base, meaning approximately 8% of his own supporters either credit him with, or blame him for the shutdown.
This polling spells deep trouble for Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, on two fronts. First, this polling is a clearly marked, 4 lane wide off ramp for vulnerable 2020 GOP Senators to split with Trump, and put increasing pressure on McConnell to bring those bipartisan bills Pelosi’s House already passed to the floor for a vote. This puts McConnell in the uncomfortable position of having to determine how many GOP Senate defections represent the tipping point between giving in to his caucus’ wishes, and facing an open revolt to his leadership. And any submission by McConnell to his caucus to pass the Democratic CR’s puts him squarely in Trump’s sites as a traitor to the cause.
The funny thing is that it doesn’t have to be a particularly large number of GOP defectors to put pressure on McConnell to fold. Senator Susan Collins has already stated publicly that she wants the government to be reopened. Collins is a member of the Senate Judiciary Committee. Jeff Flake already proved that in a committee with a one vote difference, withholding that one vote ground the committee to t halt on forwarding judicial nominees to the floor for confirmation. And more importantly, sometime soon Trump’s nominee for Attorney General, Bill Barr, is going to have his confirmation hearing in front of the committee. Collins has all the leverage in the world over McConnell to bring those CR votes to the floor.
But the bigger problem for McConnell, and by extension Trump, is that if he folds on the issue of reopening the government, he sets a precedent. I’m fond of reciting an old Catholic rhyme, “In order to keep your faith intact, make sure it remains unsullied by fact.” Devotion requires an acceptance of things you personally cannot control or change. If McConnell lets his caucus force him into bringing the Democratic CR’s to the floor, the first stone has just popped out of the McConnell/Trump dam.
Because more Democratic House passed bills are on the way. And they are on the way representing issues that are going to be popular with the American public, including voters in states with vulnerable GOP Senators in 2020. McConnell is going to want to block most of these from coming to the floor for a vote, both to deny Pelosi and the Democrats from a victory, as well as to protect Glorious Bleater from having to take the hit of whipping out his veto pen. But if McConnell has to fold on ending the shutdown, then his caucus knows that they can control him by manipulating their support for things he desperately wants to get done.
And most importantly, the Mueller investigation is not going to last forever. Sooner or later, Mueller is going to issue a report, and the impeachment chatter will go to DEFCON 1. If Mueller comes up with anything even remotely like a “smoking gun,” and Jerry Nadler exploits it, the pressure will fall solely on McConnell and the GOP Senate. Trump’s popularity is already low, and is likely to go lower as he spins farther out of control. The last thing that Mitch McConnell needs is a caucus that has shown a history of slitting with their majority leader, and their president, when it suits their tactical purposes. Like in life itself, self preservation is the first law of politics.
This crisis is a totally self inflicted gunshot wound for Trump and the GOP. It was totally avoidable. And it was also possible to rectify it in the immediate days afterwards, and ,minimize the damage. But Trump’s arrogance, and his childish fear of his base, exacerbated by RWNJ talking heads, has now made this shutdown a potential existential threat to Trump’s entire term, if not his presidency itself. Don’t touch that dial.
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