President Trump endorsed the idea of shutting down the federal government at the end of September when the current funding bill runs out in a pair of tweets Tuesday morning.
Those tweets come just days after Trump bashed Democrats for their threat to – wait for it – shut down the government.
That contradiction aside, Trump’s shutdown strategy – if we can call it that – is not only a bad one but one that could cost Republicans dearly if they decide to follow it.
Here’s what we know about government shutdowns from the history of them over the past two decades:
1. People hate them.
2. It’s a high stakes gambit that often backfires on the party that is perceived to provoke it.
That unpredictability of outcomes is why most politicians do everything they can to avoid a government shutdown. Politicians hate unforeseen consequences – and a shutdown is full of them.
And, for Republicans, the shadow of Newt Gingrich still haunts them; the then Speaker’s decision to force a government shutdown showdown with then President Bill Clinton in late 1995 and early 1996 turned disastrous and led to Clinton’s sweeping 1996 victory.
Republicans have every reason to be worried about a presidential tweet advocating for a “good” shutdown in September.
First off, the shutdown would almost certainly be blamed on them. Everyone in the country knows Republicans control the White House, Senate and House. Blaming Democrats just won’t work unless Democrats make a giant tactical mistake – like Nancy Pelosi saying “I want the government to shutdown so we can gain politically.” It seems unlikely she would say anything like that.
Second, the fundamental challenge of these first few years of Republican dominance is to prove to the public that the GOP can actually govern. Over the eight years of President Obama, Republicans survived – and thrived – as the opposition party. But, winning changes things. And, as Speaker Paul Ryan has said repeatedly over the last few months, the onus is now on his party to get things done, to demonstrate a competence in running things. Shutting down the government is the opposite of that.
Third, polling suggests that, increasingly, people want the two sides in Washington to work together and find ways to compromise. Per CNN pollster Jennifer Agiesta, 72% in a March CNN/ORC poll said they wanted Trump to find bipartisan compromise rather than simply passing laws he thinks are right but have zero Democratic support; almost six in ten Republicans preferred Trump seek bipartisan compromise versus going it alone.
It’s worth noting here that there were similar predictions of doom and gloom for Republicans when the government shutdown amid attempts by congressional GOPers to void funding for the Affordable Care Act. But, while Republicans took a major polling hit in the immediate aftermath of the shutdown, they bounced back quite well by November 2014 – winning back control of the Senate and solidifying their House majority. One big difference from 2013, however: Republicans had a Democratic president reviled by their base. Now they have a Republican president reviled by the Democratic base.
For Trump, who has positioned himself as the ultimate outsider to politics and the two-party system, a shutdown wouldn’t be the worst thing. It has the potential to affirm for his supporters that he’s willing to be the bull in a china shop – and, if past is prologue, his base responds well to that image of him.
But, for his party in Congress, a shutdown is a near-certain political loser. Trump’s tweets this morning suggests he doesn’t know that. Or doesn’t care.