As the US Government shut-down enters its fourth week, hundreds of thousands of federal workers remain unpaid and key federal services have stopped. Mr Trump refuses to approve the 2019 federal budget unless it includes funds for his border wall; Congress Democrats, headed by Speaker Nancy Pelosi, refuse to give it to him.
This is not a matter of cost; the $5.7 billion Trump is demanding is a relatively small amount in federal budget terms; it is a matter of authority. Both sides are adamantly sticking to their resolve, and it is hard to see a way out.
Trump’s position is rooted in his 2016 campaign promise of building a southern border wall to stop illegal immigrants crossing the border into the US. The issue of illegal immigration was instrumental to Trump’s election campaign; he needs policy to show that he has acted on the supposed border crisis. The promise of the wall was arguably the most discussed pledge during Trump’s election and will be a judge of his success.
The idea that Mexico will pay for the wall has been abandoned; to cement his Presidential authority in line for the 2020 election, it is imperative that he gets the required funding. At the same time, in trying to force Congress to fund the wall, Trump has dug himself into a hole which could damage his prospects of re-election. Clearly, the stakes of the shutdown delve much deeper than current policy.
The Democrats are standing firm against Trump, and they have good reason to do so. Allowing Trump to build his border wall would serve as a physical symbol of his success, meaning his supporters would continue backing him. There is also the concern that if Trump gets his way it would set an unwanted precedent in US politics. A President forcing through policy by effectively stopping government from functioning seems far from democratic. It is not good politics.
This is not the first shutdown for the Trump administration. For a nation that prides itself on democratic practices and constitution, this seems somewhat illogical.
Currently, the Democrats have popular opinion on their side. A recent Quinnipiac University poll found that 56 per cent of American voters found blame the President and the Republican Party for the shutdown while only 36 per cent blamed the Democrats. Democrats are willing to play this zero-sum because they understand what is at risk. Allowing an already reckless and misguided President to successfully hold Congress to ransom would only embolden him.
The more entrenched Trump’s position becomes – with the possibility of him declaring a national emergency to access the funding - the more unruly and irresponsible he looks. Most Democrats think this anyway, but Republicans may begin to waver their support.
Trump’s stubbornness is portraying him in an increasingly negative light, on both the right and left side of politics. No longer is Trump seen as the astute dealmaker; the tactic of throwing a tantrum in the hope of getting what one wants does not sit well with most Republicans.
This behaviour has been a bad move for the President, and it will only get worse as federal workers continue to feel the consequences. The self-proclaimed expert deal-maker has certainly missed the mark on this one.