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Washington Wrap: Baser Instincts

Omri Nahmias

Trump is basically captive to his voter base. With a meager popularity rating of about 40%, a significant portion of the country opposes his policies

Wednesday, January 24, 2018

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A government shutdown — it certainly wasn’t what President Trump had in mind when he prepared to mark his first year in office. But in the end, he had to cancel the party at Mar-a-Lago and stay in the White House while lawmakers tried to pass a bill that would reopen the government.

A shutdown happens when lawmakers can’t agree on a spending bill to fund the government. The sticking point this time is the fate of 800,000 children of undocumented immigrants. Democrats and Republicans have different ideas about how to resolve their legal status, and members of both parties voted against a compromise spending bill that would have kept the government running.

Truth be told, Trump is getting a taste of his own medicine. While everyone admits that resolving the status of the “dreamers” doesn’t justify shutting down the government, there’s no denying that Trump failed to internalize one of the fundamentals of governance — politics necessitates the art of the compromise. It seems as if nothing matters to the president except winning — that he doesn’t care about making the people happy as much as seeing his rivals defeated. Under those circumstances, it’s proven impossible to get the ten Democratic votes he needs to get the government up and running again.

Which brings us to the more fundamental dynamic at play here: Trump is basically captive to his voter base. With a meager popularity rating of about 40%, a significant portion of the country opposes his policies, creating a situation where the president is obligated to his voters — but to them, only. So, if the base is not interested in, say, legalizing the children of illegal immigrants, Trump will oppose that law — notwithstanding recent comments that he wants to formulate a bipartisan “bill of love” that would offer them legal status.

The government shutdown that started on Saturday is just one example of these Trumpian politics. We observed similar trends when Trump tried to annul Obamacare or when he pushed through his tax plan. One year on, it’s clear that Trumpian bully politics will not bring him great gains in Congress. But Trump wants to keep his fans passionate and loyal, thus paving the way for his reelection in 2020. That’s the root of the paradox we’re witnessing and the reason for his apparent indecisiveness regarding DACA.

Voices from the Street

On Sunday afternoon, the second day of the shutdown, I went to hear what the man on the street had to say about his government.

C’zar Bernstein, a law student at George Washington University, felt that the Democrats were to blame. “The spending bill and the immigration debate are two separate issues, but the Democrats are trying to combine them. There’s no reason for them to oppose the spending bill, so it’s clearly politics. The Democrats took the gamble, knowing they have the support of the media and that the president is going to get all the blame — and they might be right,” he said. (Excerpted from Mishpacha, Issue 695)

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