It’s government funding time again, and although it’s a process that usually goes smoothly — oiled by both parties’ desire to expand government spending as much as possible — this year contains an interesting wrinkle.
President Trump has threatened to veto any spending bill that doesn’t contain funding for his planned border wall, a veto which would trigger a government shutdown.
Now, as I’ve pointed out before, government shutdowns are no big deal. They are misnamed, as only a small fraction of the government actually stops working, and nothing catastrophic happens in the interim. Social Security checks still go out, the national debt still gets serviced, the military keeps doing whatever they are doing over in Afghanistan. Some bureaucrats might miss a paycheck, and that’s pretty much it.
Nevertheless, the optics of a government shutdown remain important. It will be recalled from the last shutdown that the Obama administration did everything in its power to make Republicans look bad, needlessly closing monuments and national parks to create a public spectacle that every 24-hour news channel ate up.
Today, the situation is no different, only this time, Trump holds all the cards. Henceforth, he has not been shy about embarrassing members of his own party, and this funding fight gives him a doozy of an opportunity to make Congress look bad.
Trump ran on the promise of building a border wall, and regardless of what you think of the policy, it could be argued that his election victory gives him a mandate to keep his promise. With that in mind, assuming he sticks to his guns, there are three scenarios that could play out, each of them beneficial to Trump and bad for Congress.
Scenario 1: Congress caves and funds the wall
In this case, Trump gets to look like the hero to his supporters, playing hardball and winning. He comes across as a tough negotiator who gets what he wants. Meanwhile, those members of Congress who live in immigrant-heavy districts will suffer for failing to stop Trump.
Republicans might fare OK, but Democrats will get slaughtered by their bases for allowing such a policy to go through. Which is why they never will. That brings us to …
Scenario 2: The government stays shut down for an extended period of time
This would be perceived as Congress willfully preventing a president from keeping his promise. Even if Trump is eventually forced to cave and approve the spending package, he can choose his moment to do so, waiting for Congress to take a few hits in public opinion over the shutdown.
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Then Trump can swoop in as a gracious compromiser, acting in the best interests of the country in the face of an obstructionist legislature.
Scenario 3: Congress overrides Trump’s veto and pushes through a spending package
This would be utterly ruinous for Republicans.
Having just admitted to the voting public that the seven years of promises to repeal Obamacare were all opportunistic lies, you would have congressional Republicans actively working against their own party’s president to thwart him doing what the voters asked him to do. It’s hard to see why any voter would ever trust a Republican to keep his promise after that double whammy.
Personally, I am no fan of the border wall, or of Trump’s immigration policy in general. I think he is mistaken. But in terms of optics, he has maneuvered himself brilliantly to ingratiate himself to his supporters while hanging his enemies in Congress out to dry. And you have to at least give him credit for that.
Logan Albright is a researcher for Conservative Review and director of research for Free the People. You can follow him on Twitter @loganalbright73.