One of the biggest lies that President Trump has told throughout the government shutdown battle — indeed it’s a lie that Trump has been telling since 2015 — is that the big, beautiful wall he envisions on our southern border is synonymous with “border security.” No lie is more foundational to Trumpism than this one is.
As a bipartisan conference committee gears up to negotiate a spending bill designed to avert another shutdown disaster in mid-February, the signs are increasing that Republicans are very worried that Trump will drag them into Trump Shutdown, The Sequel.
What’s particularly notable, however, is how gingerly Republicans are addressing this possibility in their public remarks. In essence, they are trapped inside Trump’s big lie about his wall, with no easy way out.
Two new developments illustrate this dynamic: A new Politico report detailing that Senate Republicans may block Trump if he tries to shut down the government a second time, and a fresh effort by Trump’s campaign manager to persuade Trump to hold firm in the quest to get his wall.
As Politico notes, many Senate Republicans are taking seriously the possibility of another shutdown. Trump could conclude at the end of conference committee negotiations (which are focused on a bill funding the Department of Homeland Security) that the result does not fulfill his desire for a wall. At that point, as Trump himself has threatened, he could either declare a national emergency or shut down the government again.
It is possible to envision the emergence of a genuine compromise. It would package money for beefing up border facilities and unclogging court backlogs to better address the humanitarian needs of asylum-seeking families and children — while taking Trump’s asylum restrictions off the table. It might include an increase in border security money for the 21st-century solutions Democrats want, plus more barriers, provided they’re drawn to fulfill genuine agency need under close congressional scrutiny.
We don’t need Trump’s wall to address the real problems at the border. But if more barriers — again, handled responsibly — are necessary to get to a genuinely good compromise that helps a lot of people and averts harm to many others, it wouldn’t be a wildly awful outcome.
But if Trump rejects such a compromise — perhaps amid right-wing-media screams of “sellout” — because it fails to slash asylum seeking or if barriers that aren’t crazy or indefensible don’t adequately fulfill his wall fantasy, then we could be headed for another shutdown.
Republicans have cornered themselves
Senate Republicans dread that outcome. But they have cornered themselves into a position where they cannot easily challenge Trump, should he reject any final compromise. That’s because they have widely endorsed Trump’s big lie, by largely buying in with his bad-faith-saturated conflation of “border security” with “the wall,” leaving them little space with the GOP base to argue for a compromise that Trump derides as falling short.
Just check out how Republicans are quoted on this by Politico. Multiple Senate Republicans say they don’t want another shutdown. But Sen. Joni Ernst of Iowa says: “We need to work with the president. We need to have border security.” There’s the problem: If Trump says a final compromise doesn’t secure the border (because it doesn’t include his wall), Republicans will have a tough time saying otherwise, no matter how much they want to avoid a shutdown.
Indeed, multiple hard-line Republicans in the House are quoted claiming that it’s all on Democrats to avoid the next shutdown. Translated, this means that for the GOP base, Trump’s continuing demand for the wall cannot be the cause of a second shutdown by definition — it is nonnegotiable.
If another shutdown looms, will Senate Republicans really say we don’t actually need the very thing Trump has spent years telling the GOP base is absolutely imperative to securing the border — after Senate Republicans themselves have widely endorsed this conflation of Trump’s wall with border security? That will be fun to watch.
Trump’s allies keep him in the bubble
In such a scenario, to avoid another shutdown, Republicans would have to help pass a compromise bill funding Homeland Security over Trump’s objections, and possibly even override Trump’s veto, as Politico reports. Which brings us to the news that Brad Parscale, Trump’s reelection campaign manager, has presented Trump with private polling data supposedly showing that the shutdown fight has bolstered him.
Parscale’s polling presentation is a bad joke. It claims that in 10 House districts that Democrats just flipped (ones Trump won in 2016), narrow majorities believe there’s a national security crisis at the border and support Trump’s wall. But, comically, according to a database compiled by America’s Voice, in around half those districts, Democrats won after Republicans ran ads echoing Trump’s xenophobic immigration messaging. And Republican strategists have privately conceded that this messaging helped lead to the GOP wipeout among swing voters.
Whether or not Parscale really believes Trump’s shutdown helps him with swing voters, it seems more likely that this is really about ensuring that Trump holds firm to keep his base happy. This is in keeping with the nonstop propaganda coming out of Foxlandia, which has filled Trump’s head with the notion that Trump’s wall is popular and that he holds all the leverage, which means he needn’t accept any compromise that perturbs his base in the slightest.
What this means is that, if Trump ends up deciding that his vision of what his base wants must veto any genuine compromise, and Senate Republicans really do want to avoid another shutdown, at some point they will have to buck the base. And that will require breaking with the big lie conflating the wall with border security that Trump has told those voters for many years now — a big lie that Senate Republicans themselves have largely endorsed.