A new poll from The Washington Post shows that the public overwhelmingly blames Trump and the GOP for what seems to be an imminent government shutdown. 48% blame Trump and Republicans, 28% blame Democrats. A key indicator: independents fault the GOP 46% to 25%. None of this is a surprise. Those who are surprised are deluded or not paying attention. Every factor that plays into how the public views these questions makes the Republicans seem like the ones to blame.
Perhaps the clearest driver is the simplest and least remarked: government shutdowns are part of the Republican brand. This is so basic and runs so deep that people ignore it. But it’s worth repeating: shutdowns are part of the Republican brand. The facts, in this case, show the GOP is at fault. But even if they didn’t, even if the facts showed the opposite, the GOP would still have a hard time because again: shutdowns are part of the Republican brand. They invented them as a policy and legislative cudgel. They’ve used them consistently under Democratic presidents. And because Republicans are generally inimical to the idea that government is a positive force in people’s lives and valorize dramatic and high stakes political gambits they have consistently embraced the concept and strategy of government shutdowns. Think about the Cruz/Obamacare shutdown of 2013. There was no hiding it. Shutdowns are awesome. They show our power. You’ll do what we want because we’ll make you. Shutdowns are part of the GOP brand. It’s hard to get around that.
It is true that in this case, Democrats do have this lever to pull: the GOP’s need for 60 votes. But even that is the consequence of decisions they made to jam through their wildly unpopular tax bill. The larger reality is that Republicans control the White House, the House, and the Senate. Truth be told, because of earlier bad acts, they control the judiciary. They control everything. If you control everything, you are responsible for what happens. This is a basic reality of life. Blaming Democrats is the legislative/partisan equivalent of kicking the dog when something goes wrong in the house. The GOP controls everything. Of course, they’re responsible.
There’s an ideological layer that people also under-appreciate. Dana Bash went on CNN yesterday and explained how Democrats were going to be under the gun from GOP ads claiming that Democrats were preventing millions of children from getting health care. This has little traction outside of hard GOP partisans because people know that it’s the Democrats and not the Republicans who favor spending money to expand health care coverage. This is just a reality. Claiming that Democrats really want to do this as opposed to not giving in to some kind of legislative blackmail just doesn’t pass the laugh test. Republicans face a similar hurdle on the very concept of shutting down the government. Democrats are the party of government, the party of services. They are never the ones who really want to cut off services. Again, claiming otherwise runs against the self-presentations both parties espouse.
Finally, when you’re unpopular, people blame you. President Trump and the GOP are now deeply unpopular. It shows up in the polls and every by-election. Why this is the case is a different issue. The fact that it’s the case isn’t disputable. When you’re unpopular already and lack trust, when something goes wrong, you’re going to tend to get the blame.
What all of this comes down to is that reality and logic conspire with ideology and party brand to ensure that Republicans will get the lion’s share of the blame for a shutdown. They’ll get the blame because it’s their doing.
It’s worth noting before I conclude just what this is even about. The Democrats want two things: a resolution of the Dreamers issue and a reinstatement of CHIP. These are not new demands for programs. They were things that existed and then President Trump broke them. In the case of CHIP, it just didn’t get done. There was no positive argument for killing CHIP or resistance to the program. It was simply allowed to expire. Once it expired, Republicans started demanding things in exchange to bring it back. Trump definitely ran against DACA. But he broke it and has been all over the map in saying he either wants it back or doesn’t. Basically, he wants more concessions to create permanent protections for these young people.
At the end of the day, it’s the same practice of legislative hostage-taking practiced by the GOP and President Trump. In this case, it’s combined with the chaos and incompetence which is the calling card of Trump-Era Capitol Hill. These are key things that the Democrats need to happen. If the GOP can’t even keep the government open on their own and need the help of the Democrats who have no power at all, they need to resolve these issues. Again, shutdowns are part of the Republican brand – and for good reason. This isn’t complicated.