There might be a government shutdown soon, and conventional wisdom says that this will be a disaster for the GOP, especially for Donald Trump, because America will realize it's all his fault. Here's Newsweek's Emily Cadei:
Republicans, Democrats and outside experts agree that there’s little political logic to the Trump White House’s threat to shut down the government this week because it insists that funding for a border wall be included in the budget. Yet that’s exactly the scenario the White House appears to be entertaining as it holds a hard line on funding negotiations. In the process, the president and his budget team may be setting up Republicans for a bigger defeat than if they’d just gone along with a slimmer than desired spending bill in the first place.
... As was the case with the two most recent government shutdowns—in 1995 and 2013—partisans are now playing a game of chicken, betting that the other side will cave and vote for a spending bill it doesn’t like, rather than be blamed for the dysfunction.
... Yet this time around, there’s an important difference. Unlike 1995 and 2013, when a Republican-led Congress and Democratic presidents were in the White House, Republicans now hold all levers of power. So it will be much more difficult to point the finger at the other side if the government does shut down.
Republican leaders in Congress don't want a shutdown, and are willing to compromise with Democrats to avoid one. But Trump wants to play hardball. The New Republic's Brian Beutler also thinks this is self-sabotage:
The White House has offered to pay out [Obamacare] subsidies only if the bill also funds the border wall. If Trump gets what he wants, everyone will be fine; if Trump doesn’t get what he wants, he will take insurance away from millions—and the government might shut down! Defeat me, he intones darkly, and I will pants myself.
But is that how the public is likely to apportion blame? First, let's not assume that most Americans know which party controls Congress. Recall that in 2014 Pew found that only 40% of Americans could correctly identify the majority party in both the House and the Senate. The fact that Democrats have any leverage at all (because of the filibuster in the Senate) confuses the issue for voters who know a little but not a lot.
It was obvious who the antagonists were in 2013 -- everyone knew that the president was a Democrat, and everyone knew that his enemies in Congress were Republicans. Well, Trump is known to be a Republican, even by low-information voters -- so if he doesn't get what he wants, and it's not because fellow Republicans are complaining (as with the original Obamacare replacement bill), then who gets the shutdown blame? It's likely to be Democrats, who'll very visibly be the Party of No.
Democrats feel they can risk this because Republicans had a great 2014 election cycle after shutting the government down in 2013. That could be the long-term result for Democrats -- but in the short term, they really could pay a price, and Trump might not. Recall the polling in 2013:
Perceptions of the way Republicans handled the budget negotiations grew steadily worse through the weeks of confrontation, rising from 63 percent disapproval on the eve of the 16-day shutdown, which began Oct. 1, to 77 percent disapproval by the time it ended. Nearly three in five Republicans disapprove of their party’s handling of the negotiations.
And even if Democrats don't get the majority of the blame, it's likely that both parties will suffer some short-term hit to their approval, as in 2013:
Congressional Democrats also sustained damage to their image. More than six in 10 respondents disapprove of how they handled budget negotiations, and unfavorable ratings of the party have risen to a record high of 49 percent.
In 2013, the president came out unscathed:
Still, President Obama’s overall ratings have held steady. Almost half of all Americans approve of the way he has handled his job, and an almost identical number disapprove.
I know, I know: Congressional Republicans were obviously the hotheads during the 2013 shutdown. Obama was the calm, even-tempered voice of reason. This time around, Trump is going to be angry and volatile and make it all about him.
But Americans might conclude that he's a legitimate president who deserves not to have his agenda blocked by the folks who lost. In which case, voters aren't going to think he pantsed himself.
Republican poll numbers recovered quickly after the 2013 shutdown because it was followed by the botched Obamacare rollout. Given Trump's ineptitude, Democrats might be similarly lucky.
If there's a shutdown, we have no idea how long it will last. We have no idea whether Trump will accept the compromises necessary to return the government to full functioning, especially if those compromises embarrass him, or block his precious wall. So predictions are hard. But if a shutdown happens, we shouldn't assume that Trump and the GOP will get all the blame.
Crossposted at No More Mr. Nice Blog