We’re looking at a possible government shutdown next Saturday, and that’s got some conservatives nervous. They shouldn’t be. Admittedly, past government shutdowns — or threats of shutdowns — have worked against conservatives. With Trump, however, it would likely be a different story.
In the past, Republicans were portrayed as denying essential services to ordinary people, and a popular president, such as Bill Clinton or Barack Obama, could selectively target just the right programs to shut down. This, of course, made the Republicans look heartless to voters, and brought them to heel. But when Trump gets to pick what gets cut, it’ll be a different story — one of the “swamp” vs. Trump, and he’ll win that one.
At the center of this story is the media’s ongoing inability to understand Trump as the ultimate outsider, who isn’t easily linked to the Republicans in Congress. Aside from a handful of observers, including Rush Limbaugh, Scott Adams, Esther Goldberg, and Jeffrey Lord, the drive-by media has continued to pitch Trump as “just another politician.” Nothing could be further from the truth. He’s a negotiator who sees deal-making as wins and losses, not ideological battles.
The liberal media focuses on his low approval ratings. But voters are far more angry about Congress, and Trump’s approval polls from People’s Pundit Daily (high 40s) and Rasmussen (50) show that he personally is in good shape. Recent evidence showed that Trump supporters were less likely to even talk to a pollster, so there is good reason to believe that Trump’s approval is in the mid-50s, especially in Middle America.
Meanwhile the real approval polls are through the roof, namely consumer and investor confidence, hiring, right-track/wrong-track. Almost every non-opinion poll indicator is not just in Trump’s favor, it is overwhelmingly on his side. As long as the economy hums along, the public will hardly worry about whether a pork project is getting its funding.
In normal government operations, the president proposes a budget, Congress drafts a bill, makes adjustments, and passes it, sending it to him for a signature. (In eight years, Barack Obama only met the deadline for submitting a budget twice.) When there is no agreement on the budget between Congress and the president, a continuing resolution maintains appropriations at the previous year’s level — in other words, never a cut or a reduction in government. To raise the debt ceiling, allowing the government to borrow more, Congress must approve or “suspend,” allowing the Treasury to borrow what it needs.
Trump has submitted a budget, and with some changes, the House will pass it. But whether it can survive a Democratic filibuster in the Senate remains to be seen, and that’s what would precipitate the “shutdown.”
Even then, there’s a good chance Trump can insulate the critical and high profile services that might build opposition. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin says he can keep the government going even without a shutdown, but, in fact, even a partial shutdown plays precisely into the Trump agenda and his campaign promises of draining the swamp. Trump’s base, as well as “swing voters” who are fed up with out of control spending, would, of course, be cheered by such a move. Moreover, such a shutdown plays into Trump’s hands by giving him every excuse to slash funding to “sanctuary cities,” to bloated university programs, to global warming science grants, and on and on. Social Security checks will continue, the military will be funded, and necessary services will hum along while grants to study the sex life of the fruit bat will not. Deep State bureaucrats who so depend on the federal government for their very existence would be the ones most hurt. In short, Trump can not only make even a partial shutdown look like the Democrats’ fault but shield many of the (normally) loudest voices from the pain.
More important, every minute the bloated government is shut down reinforces the perception of Trump as a businessman who cuts the fat, extracts more efficiency, and makes the U.S. government more like a business. Unlike the Clinton/Gingrich shutdown battle, the control over what sectors of the government get their money is in the hands of a Republican president, not a Democrat who held up funds on the most visible and sympathetic programs. Trump would relish starving all the non-essential offices like PBS and NPR or global-warming science grants.
Trump’s critics tell us of a looming catastrophe. Trump responds, “Please don’t throw me in that briar patch,” and marches inexorably forward with his agenda.