Any political junkie will tell you that despite the fact that voters largely believed Republicans were responsible for the Ted Cruz-inspired shutdown over Obamacare in 2013, the following year the GOP still benefitted mightily in the midterms, gaining seats in the House and taking control of the Senate.
Thus, the thinking goes, voters mostly forget about shutdowns as soon as they’re over. But in the Trump era that’s a specious take informed by old data that fails to account for context. American voters are now experiencing the nation’s longest shutdown in history for one of the least supportable political positions in history. Not only has Donald Trump shut down the government over a border wall that isn’t supported by a majority of the voters—his battle for wall funding also reinforces his own broken campaign promise that Mexico would foot the bill for the project.
But the key difference as this shutdown drags on is that real people are feeling real consequences and real anxiety with no end in sight. Stories of furloughed federal workers selling personal belongings or dipping into their kids’ college funds in order to pay their bills are spilling out. Some government workers are making horrific life and death decisions like choosing between buying food and paying for cancer medication or rationing their insulin. People who contract with the federal government face the daunting prospect of both covering bills now and never receiving backpay for the work they missed while the government was closed. In addition, everyday Americans are increasingly feeling the effects, with air travelers experiencing excessive TSA lines and farmers, for instance, not being able to get the loans they need to stay in business.
And it won’t end there. On Tuesday, Trump reiterated in a conference call that he’s ready for a lengthy shutdown. In the meantime, his administration is clearly trying to rev up the selective cylinders of the government that will mitigate the shutdown’s fallout.
WASHINGTON (AP) — IRS is recalling 46,000 workers — nearly 60 percent of its workforce — from furlough to handle tax refunds without pay.
— Zeke Miller (@ZekeJMiller) January 15, 2019
Look, this government closure doesn’t have the air of short-lived theatrics that shutdowns past. Not only is the pain of it reaching further into the heart of America every day, it reinforces the narrative that has surrounded Trump’s entire presidency: He’s an impetuous and volatile personality who’s disastrously ill suited for the work of governing.
Public opinion about whether the shutdown is “very serious” has already risen dramatically, from 29 percent just before Christmas to 50 percent now, according to HuffPost/YouGov polling.
In support of his position, Trump is also pushing the exact same racist tropes about immigrants that eviscerated Republicans in the midterms. In fact, after studying election data, GOP strategists concluded Trump’s laser-like focus on immigrant bashing in the campaign’s final weeks turned “a race for House control that leaned Democratic into a late-breaking GOP bloodbath.”
A late-breaking GOP bloodbath. The notion that what decimated Republicans in moderate House districts a couple months ago would have a different impact on Senate Republicans moving forward is the definition of insanity. Trump’s own lunacy is even serving as a drag on Trump, whose approval ratings in the last several weeks have dipped about a handful of points despite being notoriously stubborn most of the time.
Senate Republicans are presently retreading the course House Republicans trod to spectacular defeat in 2018. Tying themselves to Trump on his indefensible shutdown is a suicide pact. Even if the shutdown itself isn’t still at the forefront of most voters’ minds come 2020, Senate Republicans’ repeated efforts to defend and enable a flagrant racist and governing incompetent will cast a dark cloud over the entire Senate GOP caucus heading into next year’s election. The shutdown will just be one more data point in the scheme of their complicity.