Trump said in the Rose Garden that he was “proud” to announce that a deal had been reached, though it was nothing more than a capitulation. The president agreed to reopen the government for three weeks, making a vague (and now, more than ever, empty) threat to declare an emergency if money for the wall was not included in negotiations. He then launched into a harangue of the type that has not in many of his speeches shifted public opinion. "We really have no choice but to build a powerful wall or steel barrier,” Trump insisted. He rambled on, reciting yet again some story about women smuggled in cars with their mouths taped shuts. (His own advisers and border agents have no idea what he is referring to.) His mini-tirade about the wall reminded anyone who cared that he is not getting it.
You cannot get thumped any worse than Trump did on this encounter with Pelosi. Each step along the way, the president stumbled. He told Pelosi and Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.) “I will be the one to shut it down.” He’d be proud to do it! He wouldn’t blame them! He was then ready to sign a clean continuing resolution — until he listed to Ann Coulter and Rush Limbaugh and provoked a shutdown anyway.
In the iconic video from December, Schumer can barely contain his laughter. Inside, surely he was jumping up and down, delighting in Trump’s political malpractice.
Since then, Team Trump has shown a total lack of compassion for the 800,000 government workers going unpaid. (Perhaps contributing to the president’s collapse, 14,000 IRS workers did not show up for work, and New York’s LaGuardia Airport was forced to temporarily suspend flights because of staffing issues.) Why would they need to go to a food bank? Can’t they suffer a little for all of us? The remarkable Marie Antoinette moments won’t easily be forgotten.
Trump never was able to sell the public on the existence of an emergency at the border, perhaps because there isn’t one. Nor could he convince a majority that the wall was needed, perhaps because it isn’t. In trying to come up with a face-saving compromise, Trump (or perhaps Stephen Miller, who seems to be in charge when immigration comes up) slipped in one too many poison pills (e.g., denying a slew of asylum claims). Trump’s own staff, in essence, blocked his retreat.
As for the disastrous Senate vote on Thursday, it is far from clear whether Trump knew it would fail or whether he was deluded, convinced that Republicans — who had been grumbling and warning him all along that this was a disastrous mistake — would simply go along.
Ultimately, what may have convinced Trump to give up were all those polls he insisted that he was discounting. As Trump throws in the towel, a new Post/ABC poll underscores just how unpopular Trump has become during the Trump shutdown. “Public disapproval of President Trump has swelled five points to 58 percent over three months as a majority of Americans continue to hold him and congressional Republicans most responsible for the partial federal government shutdown.” Pelosi has fared much better. (“53 percent blame Trump and congressional Republicans while 34 percent blame Pelosi”). Meanwhile, independents critical to both midterm and presidential elections have fled in droves. Among independents, disapproval has soared from 53 percent in November to 63 percent now, while 54 percent say "Trump and Republicans are more responsible for [the shutdown] while 29 percent blame Pelosi and Democrats.”
We will see whether Trump’s collapse costs him with his base. If so, the bottom will fall out of his ratings. We are left with two final questions: Will there be serious primary challengers to Trump, who’s managed to prove his total incompetence? We’ll see. And will Pelosi get tired of winning? I think not.