Rumor has it the federal government has shut down. Have you noticed? I haven’t. I was on Howie Carr’s radio show this afternoon, talking about the shutdown–or perhaps we should say, alleged shutdown. Here are a few observations:
1) It goes without saying that the shutdown is the Republicans’ “fault.” It makes no difference whether the president is a Republican or Democrat, or who controls congress, or whether the shutdown is prompted by Congressional inaction or by a veto. An iron law of reporting holds that the GOP is to blame for all shutdowns.
2) So that’s a given. The question is, will anyone care? The public has become rather jaded about shutdown theater, I think. In 2013, the Obama administration deliberately tried to dramatize the shutdown by closing the national parks and D.C. monuments, and taking other measures to make the shutdown relatively visible and even impactful. I don’t suppose the Trump administration will do the same.
3) Before the script changed, Mitch McConnell vowed that there would be no shutdown, saying:
Well, [President Trump] can speak for himself, but I think that a government shutdown is not a good option. That’s my view. The American people don’t like it. I don’t know how many times, you remember my favorite country saying, there’s no education in the second kick of a mule. We’ve been down this path before and I don’t believe we’ll go down this path again.
I’m not sure what McConnell was talking about. The latest notable shutdown, the one he must have had in mind, occurred in October 2013 and lasted for 16 days. The Obama administration tried to maximize shutdown pain, and the press universally blamed Republicans and deplored their supposed intransigence. What was the result, in the midterm elections that took place just over one year later? Wikipedia reminds us:
The elections saw sweeping gains by the Republican Party in the Senate, House, and in numerous gubernatorial, state, and local races. The Republicans gained control of the Senate for the first time since 2006, and increased their majority in the House. The Republicans also gained two seats in governors’ races. …
Overall, the elections resulted in the largest Republican majority in the entire country in nearly a century, with 54 seats in the Senate, 247 (56.78%) in the House, 31 governorships (62%), and 68 state legislative chambers. Moreover, Republicans gained their largest majority in the House since 1928, the largest majority in Congress overall since 1928, and the largest majority of state legislatures since 1928.
Obviously the shutdown wasn’t politically fatal to the GOP–to say the least–despite the Obama administration’s efforts.
4) How and when will the shutdown end? The history of shutdowns is interesting. The longest-lasting shutdown ever was in 1995 and lasted 21 days. That record could well be broken this time. To the extent the administration “shuts down” by furloughing non-essential employees in, say, the EPA and the Commerce Department, the situation won’t generate a lot of pressure from voters. And I don’t think President Trump is in a mood to cave (contrary to early appearances). Still, something’s got to give.
The $5 billion Trump is holding out for represents only a portion of the cost of building the remaining wall–which, by the way, has been mandated by legislation for some years–and Trump has indicated he is open to compromise on the amount. A wall already exists on part of the Southern border, so all that is really at stake here is how much more of a still-incomplete wall will now be funded. In theory, compromise should be easy. But both sides see symbolic importance, and political benefit, in holding firm. So the faux shutdown could go on for a while.
I have no idea who will “win” the shutdown by any rational criterion, although, given the context, I would bet on President Trump to get most of what he wants. But one thing I will guarantee: no matter what happens, the press will assure us that the shutdown was a disaster for the Republicans. Again.