Trump’s Gift to the Republican Party: A Spine

The government has shut down. While President Donald Trump may have jokingly referred to this as a one-year anniversary present to him from the Democrats, shutdown season has actually resulted in many gifts being given.

Most importantly of all, it has allowed Trump to give the Republican Party a gift that it has so desperately needed, even if it did not want it: a backbone. The shutdown was bound to happen sooner or later. Although the Democrats had blinked numerous times in the ongoing staring contest of DACA, apparently they decided that they were done blinking and were finally going to begin grandstanding for their far-left base.

But all this really did was give Trump just enough time to plan accordingly. And like a sports coach, he took plenty of time motivating the players before the big game. The president wasted no time in framing the narrative, something that Republicans have historically been very bad at doing. He highlighted the key areas of the government that will be most severely damaged by a shutdown, including the military and the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP). Most importantly, he pointed out that with this shutdown, the Democrats have proven how much more they care for illegal aliens than the needs of American citizens. Few narratives could possibly be more powerful than that.

Then, once the shutdown occurred, he did not hold back. The official statement from the White House was as blistering of an attack as you would expect from the Commander-in-Chief. From calling them out on “hold[ing] our lawful citizens hostage over their reckless demands,” to labeling them “obstructionist losers,” the statement was classic Trump. The White House tripled down on this rhetoric with OMB Director Mick Mulvaney, who declared in a press conference that “we will not negotiate the status of 690,000 unlawful immigrants while hundreds of millions of taxpaying Americans, including hundreds of thousands of our troops in uniform and border agents protecting our country, are held hostage by Senate Democrats.”

This no-holds-barred approach proves that Trump is determined, angry, and not backing down. The Democrats were already poking the bear with “Dicky” Durbin’s unproven allegations of the president’s “shithole” comment; this shutdown was the last straw.

But the entirety of this response would be for nothing if Trump didn’t have a solid team behind him on Capitol Hill. And it goes without saying that this has been a very dysfunctional, fractured, and often unreliable team that is supposed to be supporting him in D.C. However, it appears that at long last, Trump has finally convinced the GOP to not only stand by him, but to stand up for themselves. As Rush Limbaugh said, the Republicans have almost always been blamed in the past for government shutdowns; and they have almost always accepted this blame, one way or another. But the response to this shutdown, both immediately before and immediately after, seems to prove that something is very different about the GOP’s response this time—and the “new sheriff in town,” Donald Trump, is to thank for it.

Speaker of the House Paul Ryan, on the day before the shutdown deadline, similarly chastised the Democrats for “hold[ing]” military funding hostage over unrelated issues and deadlines that don’t exist.” He then proceeded to quote what Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer said before the 2013 government shutdown, in which he described shutdowns as “governmental chaos,” and even explicitly said that the Democrats would not shut down the government over immigration. Ryan said that he “could not agree more.” Similarly, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell condemned the shutdown over an issue that has nothing to do with government spending or the budget, and said that “The American people should expect better from us than this.”

But that wasn’t all. Right around the time the shutdown occurred, Trump and the GOP had already made their messaging clear: The hashtag #SchumerShutdown was trending on Twitter before the shutdown started. The Democrats scrambled to turn it back around in their favor and weakly tried to promote the alternative hashtag #TrumpShutdown, but it is quite clear that more than enough people got the message on who is to blame for the shutdown. And that message will continue to be spread effectively by Trump himself, for his Twitter feed is far more closely-watched than any “trending” hashtags.

Someone in the GOP—perhaps even Trump himself—rightfully saw the potential with #SchumerShutdown. Not only does the alliteration make it catchier and easier to roll off the tongue than “Trump shutdown,” but it similarly ties this whole debacle to one particular individual, making it an even stronger attack. As such, the House Republican Conference created something that is also more effective and lasts longer than Twitter hashtags—a website called SchumerShutdown.com.

That’s right. The GOP literally created an entire website dedicated to blaming the shutdown on Senator Schumer. And it’s just as glorious as you’d expect.
The site is just one page. The site’s banner is a massive close-up of Schumer’s face, with the image in a foreboding blood-red color, and the hashtag in white. Right below it is the #SchumerShutdownClock, which slowly ticks up the hours, minutes, and seconds that the shutdown has been going on. Below that is a 40-second video clip of Schumer’s aforementioned “governmental chaos” quote, contrasted with his support for a government shutdown today, five years later.

Then below that are the cold, hard facts. The site covers the devastating effects on CHIP, stating that “9 million children will lose their health insurance,” which “could cause potentially life threatening removal of treatment.” It then addresses the military, saying that “more than 2 million members of our military will not be paid until the shutdown ends,” and “50 percent of the civilian workforce will be furloughed—impacting contracting, medical, maintenance, and morale.” Further down is perhaps the most brutal part of the site: A massive graphic depicting each state represented by a Democratic senator, and the amount of children who will lose their CHIP because of the shutdown. The numbers range from 3,876 in Minnesota (directed at Senators Amy Klobuchar and Tina Smith) to 2,022,213 in California (directed at Senators Dianne Feinstein and Kamala Harris).

Last but not least, at the very bottom of the site, is another image of Schumer in blood-red, featuring another quote by him in 2013: “A [government shutdown] is the politics of idiocy, confrontation, and paralysis.”

The messaging is strong: Democrats are shutting down the government, and valuable services such as children’s health insurance and the military, over the so-called “rights” of less than 700,000 illegal aliens. When the GOP led the shutdown in 2013, it was over their opposition to a highly unpopular law (Obamacare), and something that was actually relevant to the federal budget. DACA is also an unpopular policy, but has nothing to do with the federal budget; yet the Democrats in 2018, by contrast, are shutting down the government to express their support for this unpopular policy.

And that’s how it came to be, that the Democrats are holding the government hostage over an unpopular policy that they support, and are already facing the blame for it. A CNN poll showed that 56 percent of voters think keeping the government running is more important; only 34 percent said preserving DACA was more important. And even the New York Times correctly assigned the blame for the shutdown to the Democrats, with the headline being “Senate Democrats Kill Bill to Keep Government Open Past Midnight.”

This is a battle that the Republican Party can win. And Trump is clearly doing everything he can to lead the party forward in this fight, covering every possible angle. The messaging is powerful, the targeting is direct, and the numbers are on their side. Democrats have gotten used to Republicans rolling over before; but this is the first time they’ve dealt with a Republican Party led by Donald J. Trump. They’re in for a surprise.

Eric Lendrum

Eric Lendrum

Eric graduated University of California, Santa Barbara with a degree in Political Philosophy. He authored, "You’re Damned, Right! A Concise Timeline of How and Why the California GOP Has Failed."

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