Since the fight isn’t over by a long shot, it’s chancy at best to try to figure out many of the biggest implications of President Trump’s decision to reopen the shut down parts of the federal government despite getting no new funding for a Border Wall or any new physical barriers aimed at strengthening border security. Still, here’s what looks reasonably clear at this stage of the struggle:
>First and foremost, the shutdown situation, context, and therefore even the verdict were set in stone more than two years ago by the Russia collusion/election cheating charges, by the opposition (mainly passive) to President Trump’s immigration agenda of the establishment Republicans still so prominent in Congress (and not just in its leadership) during the Trump administration’s first two years, and the resulting politics of impeachment.
That is, as I’ve written previously, from his first day in office, Mr. Trump needed to secure the protection of Congressional Republicans – including their establishment ranks. Therefore, he needed to prioritize their top issues, like Obamacare repeal and a tax cut heavily weighted toward business, rather than his top – populist – issues, like fixing America’s broken trade and immigration policies.
It’s true that in his second year, the President has ramped up the pressure on leading trade predator China and on other mercantile economies (with his steel and aluminum tariffs). But unlike the Border Wall, those measures didn’t require Congressional funding, or any form of approval from Capitol Hill. (The new trade deal with Mexico and Canada to replace the North American Free Trade Agreement seems to be moderate enough to at least have attracted mild endorsements from the Big Business-run Offshoring Lobby.)
And if establishment Congressional Republican leaders like former House Speaker Paul Ryan and current Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell weren’t going to go the mat for the Wall (which of course would also have required helping to persuade some moderate Democrats to come along as well) when the GOP controlled both houses of Congress, there was absolutely no way Mr. Trump could have generated Wall funding once the Democrats gained control of the House.
Incidentally, it’s being reported by at least one non-anonymous source with first-hand knowledge that the President himself provided some confirmation for this argument – by blaming Ryan for “having ‘screwed him’ by not securing border wall money when Republicans had the majority….”
>If you’re going to shut down the government, and especially if you’re planning to dig in your heels for the duration, shut down the right agencies. For example, if the issues are illegal immigration and law enforcement, don’t shut down the Department of Homeland Security – which is chiefly responsible for protecting the nation’s security in these areas. If you’re a Republican, don’t shut down the Agriculture Department, whose rural constituency is overwhelmingly Republican and conservative, and which was already unhappy enough with the President about China trade policies that had pretty much shut down America’s immense soybean exports to the People’s Republic. Also if you’re a Republican don’t shutdown the Federal Aviation Administration – because victims are especially likely to be businessmen and women and other relatively affluent voters – who provide lots of actual and gettable Republican votes.
>Consequently, the politics of shutdowns, and of some aspects of political populism, are becoming clearer than ever – especially if they’re long ones. And many of these should have been obvious from the start.
Most obvious, voters of all kinds – populists and non-populists alike – who are receptive to anti-government arguments get a lot less anti-government when the affected services affect them directly.
Less obvious, populist voters themselves say and act happy to see populist politicians act like disrupters when it comes to the mutually supportive networks of corruption and propaganda set up by establishment politicians, lobbyists, consultants, think tank hacks, and mainstream media journalists in the Washington, D.C. Swamp The same goes for establishment policies they believe have brought them nothing but trouble, like mass immigration, offshoring-friendly trade deals, and pipe dream foreign wars and similar ventures.
What they don’t want disrupted is the steady stream of government services that make their lives easier – and even viable in the first place.
>For reasons like the above, it’s unimaginable that Mr. Trump will follow through with his threat to shut down the government again if he can’t persuade Democrats to compromise acceptably on Wall funding. His best hope for some kind of partial win is to portray himself as the reasonable party, and the Democrats as the arrogant, rigid extremists.
>In that vein, expect continued, and even more frequent administration activity spotlighting crimes by illegal aliens – especially in the districts and states of key lawmakers. But success is also likely to require claims (which are entirely credible, in my opinion) that illegal aliens steal jobs from native-born Americans and/or drive down their wages, and that the leading victims include minority Americans.
>One particularly effective tactic would be for the administration to push for mandating that businesses use the E-Verify system to prevent illegal aliens out of the national job market. E-Verify is currently being used on a voluntary basis by many companies (not including most Trump-owned companies), and by all accounts is extremely accurate. (That is, it snares virtually no innocents in its electronic net.) But its use so far has been voluntary, meaning that companies that blow it off get legs up on their competition by virtue of easy access to bargain-basement illegal employees.
>Another potentially effective talking point that the administration has strangely ignored: focusing on the sheer numbers of foreigners who’d be likely to swamp U.S. borders – and the country’s asylum system – without more effective physical barriers. The administration and all of its spokespeople and media supporters should keep asking the question of Democrats: How many tens of millions of these would-be immigrants and asylum-seekers can the United States afford to admit?
>If these Trump efforts fail, declaring a national emergency looks like the President’s best bet to reestablish credibility with his base and perhaps with fence-sitting voters and Members of Congress, and even some legislative opponents.
Such a move could also go far toward putting the most politically damaging aspects of this issue behind him. After all, there’s little that opponents can do about such a national emergency declaration other than try to tie it up in the courts. And Mr. Trump could – credibly, in my opinion – respond by using information about illegal aliens crime to accuse them of endangering their countrymen and women’s security. So even if rulings by friendly judges hold up actual Wall construction, Mr. Trump’s political position could benefit.
>The President also could well be tempted to score political points by pressing harder to win some foreign policy victories. A China trade deal and significant progress in limiting the nuclear weapons threat posed by North Korea are the two most obvious candidates, but presidential over-eagerness could seriously undermine major American interests.
I’m most worried about the administration’s dealings with Beijing, given the talk out of China of ending the current trade conflict for the foreseeable future by buying lots more American goods and services. More Chinese imports from the United States would be welcome – no mistake about that. But not if the price is letting Beijing off the hook for its ambitions literally to steal and subsidize its way to global supremacy in key technologies that not so coincidentally have big defense implications.
>Finally, re shutdowns themselves, the policy of requiring furloughed workers to do their jobs without getting paid strikes me as completely unacceptable. In other circumstances like this, at home or abroad, these practices are called “forced labor” or “wage theft.” And they’re rightly condemned. Nearly as bad, these furlough practices help pro-shutdown politicians curry favor with their supporters while mitigating or at least postponing the harm to the public – including those supporters.
In other words, if you’re for a shutdown, make it a real shutdown. For any agency whose funding is cut off, the workers stay home – and the jobs they do don’t get done. If that means chaos ensues and public safety is put at risk, too bad for shutdown-ers. They’ll own it.
>Speaking of owning it, that’s the situation that House Speaker Nancy Pelosi now finds herself in not only regarding border security but every issue that comes up in national affairs. In particular, when you show you’ve gained enough power to win political battles, you also show that you’ve gained enough power to frustrate initiatives that may be unpopular among your caucus in Congress, or some of your caucus, but that may be popular with everyone else. So forget about the the idea that Pelosi is now free to conduct a campaign of all-encompassing resistance to the Trump agenda, and to dictate terms of those proposals that she is willing to consider.
>And finally, that’s one of the many reasons it’s way too early to predict how the shutdown fight will impact the next presidential election. The main additional reasons: There’s still a long ways to go before that campaign achieves critical mass, and any number of events could turn the political calculus upside down. And similarly, it’s glaringly obvious that the Trump era news cycle – along with the national attention span – is already the shortest in recent memory – and could well keep getting shorter.