Trump stakes all on his wall as government shutdown looms

This editorial appeared in The News & Observer

Donald Trump still doesn’t understand the difference between running against the government and leading the government. As a result, Republicans in Congress are scared that his confrontational style will force a government shutdown that could send them into a political tailspin.

Trump is having a macho moment in demanding that Congress appropriate money for a border wall, and his threat is to veto a spending bill that would keep the government open –— something that’s become a regular confrontation now between the White House and Congress. Trump has most recently said he’s pushing the wall because “my base” really wants it. His base may want it, but a recent Quinnipiac poll shows that 64 percent of Americans oppose it.

A possible shutdown over the border wall is curious on many counts. First, Trump’s already broken his bombastic promise to make Mexico pay for the wall, something Mexico says it isn’t going to do. So now Trump says Americans will pay for it, but Mexico will pay them back – a ludicrous claim.

The government shutdowns of 1995-96 spelled a political nose-dive for Republicans out to show President Bill Clinton who was boss. The same would happen here, except Trump would be riding in the co-pilot’s seat when the dive came. Republican on Republican. The circular firing squad, some call it.

Trump’s spokespeople appeared on all the Sunday talk shows and in some cases seemed to be backpedaling, trying to find the president room to back off his threat gracefully. If he should shut the government down, he would alienate congressional Republicans. House Speaker Paul Ryan would likely be lost to Trump as an ally for the remainder of his time in the White House. Ryan is a conservative and an ideologue to some degree, but he also understands the American people expect him to keep the government running.

The president is demonstrating again his disinterest in the business of governing. He loves the show, the rallies. He likes to tweet about his enemies and boast about his accomplishments (most in his own mind). But he still fails to grasp that a president’s credibility has an impact on economic stability and national security.

Trump doesn’t see himself as someone subject to “tests.” He believes first in his own invincibility. But any president is tested all the time, and acting to prevent a government shutdown is going to be a big test for Trump. If he stands stubborn, fires off tweets about Congress and its leaders, and watches the government shut down, he will create a defining moment for his presidency that he does not want.