President Trump has been in a petulant mood this weekend. “I’m in the White House, waiting,” he griped Sunday morning, “The Democrats are everywhere but Washington as people await their pay. They are having fun and not even talking!” Following the New York Times’s report on the FBI’s investigation of his possible secret links to Russia, he spoke on the phone Saturday night with Fox News’s Jeanine Pirro, who sardonically asked if he had “ever worked for Russia.” That triggered a two-minute rant, none of which included the word “no,” about how insulting the FBI’s suspicion was. But the president’s crankiness is no surprise: As a new Washington Post-ABC poll shows, Trump is losing the argument over the government shutdown and building a wall at the southern border. And he’s losing it badly.
In the new poll, released Sunday morning, 53 percent of respondents (including 53 percent of independents) blame Trump and Republicans for the shutdown (now the longest ever). Only 29 percent overall (and less than a quarter of independents) blame the Democrats. Fifty-four percent oppose the border wall. As for the musings from Trump and some other Republicans about declaring a national emergency to fund the wall, only 24 percent say the border situation is a crisis. Not a single part of Trump’s framing has taken hold with a majority of the American public.
Other polls have bad news for the White House as well: A new CNN poll finds that 56 percent of voters oppose the wall; only 39 percent support it. Similar to the Post-ABC survey, 55 percent of voters tell CNN they blame the president for the shutdown, with only 32 percent blaming the Democrats. Meanwhile, Trump’s approval rating has dropped five points since December.
The usual fallback here for those determined to find good news in bad polls for the president is “at least his base is holding.” And yes, Republican support for the border wall has “jumped 16 points in the past year, from 71 percent to 87 percent” in the Post-ABC poll. But Trump’s digging in on the border wall hasn’t actually improved his support among Republicans, just their support for the wall itself. Meanwhile, in the CNN poll, Trump’s decline “comes primarily among whites without college degrees, 45% of whom approve and 47% disapprove, marking the first time his approval rating with this group has been underwater in CNN polling since February 2018.” Those voters were crucial to Trump’s victories in Midwest states in 2016; without them, his path to 270 electoral votes narrows further.
That contradictory polling captures just how critical Trump’s crisis has become. Even as independents have turned more against him, the president’s base and conservative media have become more invested in the wall. (In the Post-ABC poll, two-thirds of Republicans who support the wall oppose a Trump compromise with Democrats.) What was “only” a top policy priority has become a near holy cause for the right. So whom should Trump choose to tick off?
At this point, the saving grace for Trump is that when it comes to shutdowns, voters quickly forget. If he folds soon, whatever damage done will be long gone by Election Day 2020. But what if he doesn’t give in for months? Or what if, just as the whole GOP doubled down on immigration before the midterms and suffered the consequences, Trump makes the wall a major issue in 2020? Suddenly, a shutdown would be a political disaster for Trump — and not just a policy disaster for the country.