The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Opinion Trump is trapped and tanking

President Trump said he would be “proud” to shut down the government. Now the longest government shutdown in history is jeopardizing some of his top priorities. (Video: JM Rieger/The Washington Post, Photo: Jabin Botsford/The Washington Post)
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Even this White House, infamous for self-delusion, must realize it’s in deep trouble. Two more polls released Wednesday show the depth of President Trump’s problem.

The Morning Consult-Politico poll finds that “57 percent of registered voters disapprove of Trump’s job performance — more than any other survey in Trump’s two years in office — while 40 percent approve. The 17-percentage-point deficit matches two previous lows of the Trump presidency.” Sixty percent of independents now disapprove of his performance. As time goes on, more Americans blame Trump for the shutdown (“49 percent of voters [say] he is responsible in the latest survey — up 6 points since the shutdown began”).

The CBS News poll has even worse numbers for Trump. In that survey, “Seven in 10 Americans don’t think the issue of a border wall is worth a government shutdown, which they say is now having a negative impact on the country. ... Mr. Trump’s overall approval rating has dipped three points from November to 36 percent today. Fifty-nine percent of Americans now disapprove of the job he is doing – a high for his presidency, although just one point above his previous high.” To add insult to injury, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) gets higher marks (47 percent) than Trump (35 percent) in handling the shutdown. Only 39 percent think Trump cares a lot or some about people like them; 53 percent say the same of Democrats. On the wall, 61 percent think the border can be secured without it, while 71 percent say it is not worth a shutdown.

The irony here — or is it karma? — is that Trump’s biggest cheerleaders in the right-wing media (e.g. Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity) and his hardcore anti-immigrant adviser Stephen Miller who egged him on are now responsible for the worst political debacle of his presidency, one that has erased any residue of presidential power. He’s now trapped, waiting for a permission slip from the right-wing media chorus to capitulate — or watch his support and any hope for legislative accomplishments evaporate.

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As to the remainder of his term, Trump was never going to advance any proposal on a wide range of issues without Democratic-buy in. Now, having empowered them and weakened his own hand, he’ll either have to give more ground in future negotiations or meekly accept two years without a significant accomplishment.

For now, his agenda is on hold. (“The standoff has already forced Mr. Trump to cancel a trip to Europe to meet with global business leaders in Davos, Switzerland, at a time when the world economy faces a possible slowdown,” the New York Times reports. “The president has made no evident progress in filling a series of senior vacancies nor has he produced the tax-cutting plan he promised last year. He has done nothing in weeks to publicly promote priorities like fighting opioid abuse or bolstering the economy.”)

Trump cannot bear to face the possibility of defeat on the issue that was most central to his campaign and most closely tied to his theme of white grievance. As with trade, however, his fixation with avoiding defeat leads to further erosion of his power. He faces a lose-lose choice: Give in now, as humiliating as that might be, or alternatively, continue a fruitless fight that will sap his chances of political survival and still not avoid eventual defeat.

Read more:

Jennifer Rubin: Has Trump tired of being bashed on the shutdown?

Greg Sargent: Trump’s phony ‘compromise’ has now been unmasked as a total sham

Greg Sargent: Trump’s position is weakening fast. Here’s how Democrats can exploit that.