The Rare Art of Painting Oneself Into a Hole
The mixed metaphor in the subtitle is a metaphor. The president has so boldly painted himself as standing firm for The Wall, that he risks everything if he now negotiates. Hence the paint, and the hole: what he’s painted himself into is worse than a corner.
The Great Negotiator was revealed this week to be a hostage to Rush Limbaugh, who publicly excoriated Trump at the merest whisper of a compromise. Trump had to openly back off the terms of a deal on the government shutdown that would not have included money for the Wall. Rather than Trump leading his troops in triumphant battle to Drain the Swamp, Limbaugh is leading him around by the nose (much as, on a global scale, it often seems that Putin has mysterious leverage on Trump).
He has a crisis that he invited, that he proudly offered to own, that inherently requires negotiation, and he cannot negotiate.
He has a crisis that he invited, that he proudly offered to own, that inherently requires negotiation, and he cannot negotiate. He depends entirely on the Democrats for a solution, even as he tweet-trashes them hourly. And the Democrats have no need to offer him anything for the Wall, the one thing he has to have. He owns the shutdown, the public knows he owns it, and a solid majority opposes funding the Wall.
From early in his presidency it has been notable that Trump plays only to his base, as I argued over a year ago. He’s made no attempt to appeal to a broader public. Even though his supporters show up consistently in the polls at 40-45 percent of the electorate, he seems to think he can win in 2020 without expanding his base. The corollary of that, however, is that he is totally, pathetically a prisoner of his base. Without them, he is nothing and he knows it.
We think we know this will work itself out, because every previous shutdown has been worked out, but in fact it’s hard to see the outlines of a solution. The Democrats, after letting him swing in the wind for awhile, will probably offer him some sort of face-saving way of climbing down. For example, a slight increase in the funding for border security, with a change of wording to allow construction of a small segment of something Trump could call a Wall. The kicker is that Trump is such a prisoner of his base that he wouldn’t dare take the deal.
Ultimately he will have to take it, because he owns the shutdown and he’s the president. Most people will hold him responsible if Yosemite is closed. For his most hard-core base, that will just confirm that they were wrong to think him better than all his predecessors. In their eyes he will become just one more politician who promises everything and does nothing. The foundation of his base will melt away.
He made this particular swamp, and he’ll drown in it.