One of the most frustrating aspects of the whole government shutdown fight is that it’s not clear that President Trump has even a rudimentary grasp of one of the most fundamental dynamics underlying what’s happening.
That dynamic is as follows: It’s very likely that Nancy Pelosi cannot give Trump the $5.7 billion he wants to fund the wall he craves.
By “cannot,” I mean that the House speaker may literally be incapable of giving it to him. It’s not at all clear that there are any circumstances under which such funding could pass the House at this point.
There are a few reasons for this. The first is that among Democratic voters, support for the wall has dropped into the single digits — again, literally. A new Quinnipiac poll finds:
- 55 percent of American voters oppose building the wall, while only 43 percent of them support it. Among Democrats, 92 percent oppose the wall while only 6 percent support it.
- 63 percent of American voters oppose shutting down the government to make sure the wall gets funded, while only 32 percent support it. Among Democrats, 95 percent oppose it while only 3 percent support it.
Now, it’s true that very large majorities of Republicans are aligned on the other side with Trump. But more Republicans than you might expect oppose the shutdown over the wall (24 percent). And among the broader public, you cannot overstate how thoroughly Trump is losing this argument. The Quinnipiac poll also finds that large majorities do not believe the wall is a good use of taxpayer money (59 percent); do not believe it would make the U.S. safer (55); do not believe it’s an effective way to protect the border (56); and believe that immigration is good for the country (73).
Meanwhile, 63 percent support funding the rest of the government while continuing to negotiate over the wall, and 56 percent blame Trump and Republicans for the shutdown, while only 36 percent blame Democrats. Surprisingly (or maybe not so surprisingly), more now trust congressional Democrats than Trump on border security by 49 to 44.
Under these circumstances, it’s very hard to see how any House Democrats — or more than the barest handful — could support $5.7 billion for Trump’s wall at this point.
The demographics of the new House majority
The unlikelihood that Democrats could give Trump the wall money he wants is also underscored by the demographic makeup of the new House Democratic caucus. Ron Brownstein published an important analysis that concluded most House districts, relative to national averages, are either more nonwhite, or have higher shares of four-year college degrees, or have higher average incomes, or are younger, or have higher shares of immigrants.
That’s a change from the last time Democrats won a majority in 2006 and expanded on it in 2008, after which many House Democrats still represented more rural and small-town districts. By contrast, the new Dem majority was assembled by racking up wins in Trump districts (or Hillary Clinton districts where Republicans had long dominated, such as those in Orange County, Calif.) that are more suburban, educated and affluent. Also, as a recent Brookings Institution analysis showed, the seats that Democrats flipped are less dependent for employment on manufacturing and more on information-oriented professional and digital services.
Basically, the new House Democratic majority is concentrated in areas where the story that Trump has told about the economy and the country is just less likely to resonate. One big surprise of this cycle is the backlash against Trumpism in the professional white-collar suburbs that had leaned Republican, which helped fuel the massive Democratic victory — creating an unprecedentedly diverse majority — in the face of Trump’s virulently xenophobic closing message. And it seems clear that the Democratic caucus broadly speaking now inhabits areas that are more comfortable with diversity, immigration, information-driven economic change and globalization.
To be sure, this creates challenges for Democrats as well. Because many lingering Republican districts in Trump country are areas have been economically left behind, due to territorial inequality created by forces such as corporate concentration, globalization and digitalization, Democrats should develop an agenda to address those trends, both to expand into those areas and for substantive and moral reasons as well.
But for now, these deep divides between the two parties’ caucuses — which is also illustrated by the woefully low support for the wall among Democrats — also make it less likely that Democrats could ever give Trump the wall funding he wants.
Finally, there are incentives. As Roll Call reports, Democrats are keenly aware that if they give into Trump’s extortion this time, it will only get worse, and there are battles looming over fiscal priorities and the debt ceiling.
But it’s not clear that Trump understands any of these things. Trump recently claimed many Democrats are calling him and saying, “We agree with you,” which is almost certainly a lie, and the White House is reportedly trying to persuade Democrats from Trump districts to back the wall, which is silly, given that many are in suburban areas alienated by Trump. So the fundamentals are plainly of no interest to him. Perhaps his plan is to keep the government shut down indefinitely, or until a supermajority in both chambers puts his flailing non-strategy out of its misery.