Shutdown politics, a leftist’s take

David Leonhardt is an op-ed columnist and associate editorial page editor at The New York Times. Obviously, he writes “from a liberal progressive perspective.”

Leonhardt is urging Democrats to capitulate on the shutdown. He wants them to “accept[] a short-term funding bill that ends the shutdown and diffuses the tension.”

Why? Because “the shutdown has created one of the more treacherous political moments of Trump’s presidency for Democrats.” (Emphasis added) Presumably, Leonhardt, who helped start the Time’s data-driven “Upshot,” has had a look at polling on the question that underlies the shutdown: Is it more important to avoid a shutdown or continue DACA? A clear majority says avoiding (now ending) the shutdown is more important.

Lest he be run out of town, or at least barred from the best parties, most of Leonhardt’s column is dedicated to virtue signaling. There’s the obligatory shot at President Trump — “The Republican Party, of course, is also the one led by a president who doesn’t know enough about policy to negotiate on his own behalf.” And naturally, “the government shutdown is overwhelmingly the fault of Republican leaders.”

Moreover, in Leonhardt’s telling, the reality that makes a shutdown over immigration policy treacherous for Democrats is the prevalence of white racism. The shutdown debate reminds Americans that the country is becoming less white. Thus, Leonhardt concludes, the Democrats need to change the subject by ending the shutdown.

Leonhardt wants to end the shutdown by passing “a short-time funding bill.” How short term? Leonhardt doesn’t say. However, as I read his column he wants a “strategic retreat” that will enable Democrats to be as well-positioned as possible come November. This seemingly would require a bill that funds the government until then.

Alternatively, the Democrats could agree to fund the government until close to the date in early March when DACA expires. This might improve their position, albeit only marginally. Right now, Republican can (and do) argue that a shutdown over DACA makes no sense because DACA hasn’t expired and the GOP is trying to negotiate a fix. The Democrats will have a better case if no fix can be negotiated before early March.

Why, then, did the Dems opt for a shutdown now? And why are they ignoring the political reality that Leonhardt describes and that many Democratic Senators surely understand?

I don’t know. My guess is it’s down to a combination of their confidence (overconfidence?) in Trump’s vulnerability, their experience with past shutdowns for which Republicans generally get most of the blame, and demands from the base that they “resist” now, whatever the cost.

My sense is that Chuck Schumer and Dick Durbin (with their ally Lindsey Graham) thought there was an outside chance they could “play” the president. This was option 1. When that didn’t work, they went with option 2, a shutdown they hope will cause the GOP to make important concessions.

The GOP should not make them.


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