The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Opinion Trump has already lost the shutdown fight

Speaking to Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.), President Trump said Dec. 11 he will shut down the government if he doesn't get what he wants. (Video: The Washington Post, Photo: Jabin Botsford/The Washington Post)

The first rule of shutdown fights is never say you are for a shutdown. Voters invariably oppose this kind of stunt and see it as evidence of incompetence and unnecessary rancor by the governing party. In short, since Republicans control everything and are likely to be blamed for shuttering the government, the last thing President Trump wants to do is say he is for a shutdown. And that’s exactly what he said Tuesday, no doubt to the joy of Democrats who are trying to convince Americans the GOP is unfit to govern.

With cameras rolling, Trump conducted a slash-and-burn meeting with Democrats. CNN reports:

President Donald Trump publicly clashed with the top House and Senate Democrats over funding for the border wall and the prospects of a government shutdown during an Oval Office meeting that was open to the press.
Trump repeatedly touted the importance of securing funding for border wall construction and was rebuffed by Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi who made clear that they would hold Trump responsible if the government shuts down.
"One way or the other it's going to get built. I'd like not to see a government closing, a shutdown," Trump said. "But the wall is a very important thing to us."
The sparks appeared to begin to fly after Pelosi characterized the possibility of a shutdown as a "Trump shutdown."
“If we don’t get what we want, one way or the other ... I will shut down the government,” Trump said later in the meeting.

Ironically, it was Democrats who tried to spare Trump the embarrassment. (“Pelosi and Schumer repeatedly sought to end the open press portion of the meeting," CNN reports, "telling the President they should debate in private, not in front of the cameras. ‘Let us have our conversation and then we can meet with the press again,’ Pelosi said.”)

It was an extraordinary moment when Trump not only lost the high ground as president but made Democrats look like the grown-ups. ("The American people recognize that we must keep government open, that a shutdown is not worth anything, and that we should not have a Trump shutdown,” Pelosi said, sounding more like a president than the actual president.)

Follow Jennifer Rubin's opinionsFollow

As if that was not enough, Trump declared, “I am proud to shut down the government for border security, Chuck.” Schumer was on solid ground later describing Trump’s performance as a “temper tantrum." In a terse written statement, Pelosi and Schumer said,“We gave the President two options that would keep the government open. It’s his choice to accept one of those options or shut the government down.”

Earlier in the day, the president was on a tear, making nonsensical threats.

As the New York Times noted, “Under restrictions put in place by Congress, none of that money could be used to construct a new, concrete wall of the sort the president has said is vital. The president does not have the legal authority to spend money appropriated for one purpose on another task, such as wall-building.”

It is not clear how Trump could have appeared any more irrational and unhinged. (If he thinks the military can build the wall, why shut down the government?) The video of him declaring his desire to shut down the government will be played over and over again should he get his wish. Good luck convincing the American people that the Democrats, who control nothing and advocated keeping the government open, are at fault.

Once more, Trump has put Republicans in a nasty spot. Hard-liners in the House and Senate will be emboldened by his rant. To keep the government running, GOP leadership may have to turn to Democrats for votes, giving Pelosi and Schumer leverage not only on the border wall but on other spending items as well.

In some ways, a shutdown at the end of 2018 would put an exclamation point on one of the worst years in memory for Republicans. The president is under investigation in multiple venues. Republicans lost 40 seats and with them the House majority. Indeed that number might be 41 thanks to substantial evidence of election fraud by Republicans in North Carolina’s 9th Congressional District. Legislatively, Republicans have accomplished next to nothing this year. If they shut down the government, they’ll wind up confirming that the party of Trump is not only unethical but also incompetent and dysfunctional. Christmas sure came early for Democrats.

Read more:

Catherine Rampell: Is the GOP the law and order party? Not so much.

We are former senators. The Senate has long stood in defense of democracy — and must again.

Greg Sargent: As Trump slides in a new poll, reality begins piercing the bubble

Eugene Robinson: What has the president been ‘smocking’?

Michael Gerson: Trump is a political vampire