It was Christmas 23 years ago. The nation found itself in the middle of a government shutdown, the first example of how rabid right-wing Republicans could not be trusted to govern in good faith, to find pathways to compromise, and to maintain basic order of the government by keeping the lights on. Newt Gingrich orchestrated the shutdowns of 1995 and 1996, arguably handing President Bill Clinton his second term as President. Most Americans didn't appreciate the brinkmanship of government shutdown politics and the myriad of effects on government workers and everyday citizens, but yet these tactics continue to be employed as tool for conservatives to grandstand until they get there way. And yet, they almost never get their way and to a person, they come out politically damaged with an emboldened opposition. Why would Trump pursue this failed strategy, switching course from agreeing to support a funding bill without funding for a wall to shutting down the government for Christmas?
To answer that question, we must analyze why government shutdown rhetoric and tactics work for the rabid Right-wing Republican base, even as they further alienate the rest of us.
- Even as we are Constitutional republic with a government of the people and by the people, conservatives espouse an ideology that calls for self-inflicted wounds if you are running the government at the time. For a group that espouses disdain for government anyway, shutting down what you despise isn't such a logical stretch. Shutdown teases the ideology out to its logical end.
- Petulant older white male conservatives tend to act from their privilege. Throughout much of their lives, this cohort usually enjoys people affirmative response when they let their desires be known. They aren't used to being disappointed or needing to concede. Compromise required to build community is not a strong suit temperamentally for those that live lives of privilege.
- The right wing media monolith lurches the base and the politicians who need them ever further right with a sustained rhetoric across multiple media channels. Sen. Bob Corker this week spoke to Trump getting caught up in feeling the need to respond to the right wing media. When it looked as though he might compromise on wall funding, the right wing media machine howled. Trump caved leaving Hill Republicans who had already formed a compromise in a lurch. More importantly he left the nation in a lurch. Government workers will be expected to work without pay. Plans for national parks will
In short, Trump's political and perhaps survival as a free man is completely wrapped in maintaining his hold over this right wing base which makes up the overwhelming majority of the Republican Party. He is both a reflection of the base and beholden to it. We've asked all along how long would the base hold on with each week one upping the previous in the crazy-town at the White House? As long as Trump panders, at least 28% of Americans will be right there with him, the same 28% that supported George W. Bush at the end of his failed Presidency and the same 28% that supported Sarah Palin heading into the 2008 election.
Here's to hoping the Ghosts of Christmas Past, Present and Yet to Come visit Trump tomorrow night.
Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays.