President Donald Trump has been painted into a corner — and not by his political adversaries, but by his own allies in conservative media.
Right-wing personalities and media organizations have given Trump little, if any, room to negotiate his way out of the longest government shutdown in U.S. history – which they prodded him into.
Figures like Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity, and Ann Coulter have demanded Trump keep the government shut down until Democrats provide him funding for a wall on the southern border. No wall, no deal.
Trump knows that, if he wants to maintain the support of his base, he cannot ignore these voices.
He can weather critical stories from outlets like The New York Times or Washington Post because his most avid supporters do not trust mainstream news organizations or get their information from such places.
But the people in his base watch and trust the Fox News prime time lineup; they listen to talk radio hosts like Limbaugh, and they read websites like the Drudge Report.
If Trump were to back away from his demands for a wall on the southern border, he would almost certainly face sharp criticism from these outlets and figures.
In mid-December, when he nearly signed legislation that would have funded the government, but provided no additional border wall funding, right-wing media outlets and personalities were furious. Breitbart called it a “cave.” The Drudge Report said Trump was in “RETREAT.” Limbaugh said he was going to “get less than nothing.” And Coulter excoriated him on her Twitter feed.
Trump became sensitive to the criticism that he was backing off his promise to build a wall, people familiar with the matter told CNN at the time. Then, abruptly, he said he would not approve the short-term funding measure, leading to the government shutdown, which is now in its 27th day.
Now, Trump has little wiggle room to negotiate.
If he retreats on his demands for a wall, he’ll face the same criticism he received from right-wing media voices back in December – and he’ll once again be confronted with the possibility he could lose standing with his base. (Trump has already shed some support from his core constituency of whites without college degrees during the shutdown, but this could accelerate that trend.)
In other words, Trump has effectively been boxed in by his biggest supporters.
Coulter, the conservative author who has been critical of Trump for his failure to thus far erect a barrier on the border, effectively made a similar point during an interview with “Vice News Tonight” this week.
“It is self preservation,” Coulter said, “because he is dead in the water if he doesn’t build that wall. Dead, dead, dead.”
The topic has even come up on Fox News.
On Wednesday night, liberal Fox News commentator Juan Williams said on the air, “You should go listen to Sean Hannity, Rush Limbaugh and Ann Coulter, because they’re running this government. And they have forced this president into a trap.”
Thus far, the right-wing media universe has backed Trump’s fight with Democrats. They’ve urged him to leave the government shut down until Democrats provide him funding for a wall.
“Trump is assuring everyone he’s not gonna cave on this, and I hope he doesn’t,” Limbaugh said on his program earlier this week. “[W]e don’t get opportunities like this one presents, and I just – hope he sticks to it.”