by Juan Williams, opinion contributor · August 6, 2018
What kind of message does it send to voters just before the midterm elections if the GOP can’t keep the lights on while in control of the White House, the Senate and the House of Representatives?
For the past few weeks, Congressional Republicans have been scrambling behind the scenes to head off a government shutdown.
“I’m optimistic we can avoid a government shutdown,” promised Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.).
Not so fast, Mr. Majority Leader. President Trump has some other ideas — and they center on immigration.
Here is the president talking with right-wing radio host Rush Limbaugh last week:
“I happen to think it’s a great political thing because people want border security,” Trump told Limbaugh, after explaining why he wants to force a shutdown.
Trump’s political gut tells him he can blame any such shutdown on the Democrats.
“I actually think… there’d be more pressure on the other side because we’re doing it because the Democrats are not giving us the votes.”
Republican leaders on Capitol Hill feel trapped. They thought they had a deal with Trump. They have the votes to pass a budget so long as he does not insist on funding for his mythic border wall to separate the U.S. from Mexico.
Trump’s wall is a symbolic rebuff to immigrants and refugees at a cost of $25 billion. It is an emblem built upon Trump’s attacks on immigrants as rapists, gang members and people from “shithole” countries. He wants to cut back both legal and illegal immigration.
Trump’s demonization of immigrants at his rallies led to chants of “Build the Wall!” Nearly two years into his presidency, the wall has not been built.
Now Trump wants to blame congressional Democrats for not giving him the money for his wall. But Republican leaders in Congress, and most GOP lawmakers, are thinking beyond applause lines for Trump at midterm rallies.
Trump’s tax cut and escalating trade wars threaten one of the cornerstones of Republican identity. Republicans have consistently held an advantage over Democrats when voters are asked which party is better at handling the economy. Trump is undermining that advantage.
The Trump tax cut has not spurred a rapid rise in wages for workers or capital investment by big corporations. And pollsters are finding that it is not proving to be politically persuasive with voters as Republicans campaign to hold House and Senate seats in the upcoming elections.
That horror show could get worse for the Republicans who are still in Congress after the midterms.
In July, the Office of Management and Budget reported that the tax cut passed without restraint on federal spending is now estimated to “add $101 billion more to the 2019 deficit, pushing it above $1 trillion,” The Hill reported.
The tax cut “is helping to drive up the federal deficit and push the national debt as a percentage of annual economic output to levels not seen since just after World War II,” USA Today reported, in an article on a study by the non-partisan Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget earlier this year.
Major Republican financial donors — including those in the vast network helmed by libertarian billionaire Charles Koch — now share the concern over how the nation’s spiraling debt could damage the economy.
Koch officials cite the $1.3 trillion omnibus spending bill passed by Congress in March as a key reason for their refusal to help their usual Republican allies on Capitol Hill.
Republican National Committee Chairwoman Ronna Romney McDaniel, standing by Trump, took the extraordinary step of warning the RNC’s donors against donating to the Koch network last week.
With polls showing that the Republicans can expect a rough ride in November, the party’s congressional leaders are sufficiently worried about the political future to begin distancing themselves from the president.
“Our hope is [that] by the end of August, the Senate will approve nine of 12 appropriations bills, which means 90 percent of the funding of the federal government — from the Senate point of view — will be done through the regular order before we get to Labor Day,” McConnell told reporters last week.
Long before Trump entered politics, McConnell proved his worth as a tactician.
Now, with an unpopular Republican president and an approval rating of just 15 percent for the GOP-controlled Congress, the last thing McConnell needs is a big flashing reminder to voters of his party’s inability to do a basic task — keep the government running.
Trump remains stubborn about his border wall; the Koch network is ready to retaliate against any Republican who passes a spending bill not to its liking; and don’t forget those fractious House conservatives itching for a public fight to show they are still relevant.
Some Republicans are going to be disappointed here. The real loser if this shutdown happens — as with all previous shutdowns — will be the American economy.
As Trump might say: “Sad!”
Juan Williams is an author, and a political analyst for Fox News Channel.