Republicans keep following Trump over cliffs, airport workers have newfound political power, and other take-aways from the great shutdown surrender of 2019.
The ending of the longest federal government shutdown ever brought three things to mind — about the president, about newly empowered workers and about where politics goes from here.
One: What a staggering display of political incompetence by the president. This should go down as Exhibit A of why voters should be wary of hiring business executives for political jobs (hello, Howard Schultz). Because experienced politicians will take them to school, every time.
Two: Who said the labor movement was dead? I mused in my last column about the “immense collective power” that airport screeners had to blow open our political gridlock. It turned out to be the air traffic controllers who did it, by grounding planes on the East Coast on Friday morning and then saying to Congress: “Do we have your attention now?” The shutdown was over in hours.
Three: How many more cliffs will Republicans blindly plunge off in slavish thrall to this huckster of a president? He’s plainly killing them. Yet with only a few exceptions (one of whom is from around here) the GOP has cowardly surrendered its future to more of this circus.
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From where I sit, as someone who covered previous federal shutdowns as a reporter, this one was doomed from the start. The reason is that opposition politics can work when you’re trying to block something (like the approval of a judge). But it rarely works when you’re proposing something (because to pass something, you typically need some consent from the other side).
This is politics 101 for the professionals. Trump didn’t appear to have ever considered it. For him to say “I would like this project, a $5.7 billion wall,” and then couple that request with the extreme opposition political act of shutting the government, was a boneheaded misunderstanding of how politics works.
In a standoff like that, the other side can just do nothing, knowing that whoever wants something out of the shutdown will get the blame. And that the status quo — no wall — is everybody’s fallback position.
That is exactly what Democrats did. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi knew she had been dealt aces from day one. So like a smart poker player, she started bullying the weaker hand. By the end one almost felt sorry for the battered Trump, like when conservative pundit Ann Coulter dubbed him the “biggest wimp ever to serve as President of the United States.” (I said almost felt sorry for him.)
The deal the GOP caved to — just a three-week opening of the government — is the worst possible result for them. It means they got zero for needlessly putting the country through 35 days of hassle and dysfunction — and they now face doing it all again in mid-February.
Rep. Adam Smith, D-Bellevue, who as chairman of the House Armed Services Committee has some sway over this issue (because the military may be called upon to build any wall), said Friday the result in three weeks could easily be the same.
“This is a manufactured crisis,” he said. “The administration has provided no justification for why the arbitrary $5.7 billion is the amount [for a wall]. More fundamental to the problem, is that no substantial case has been made for why a wall is needed.”
So Democrats are going to say “no” again. And again they will have the upper hand. At a minimum Trump would need to do some political organizing work around the benefits of a specific wall project. But he hasn’t, and so far every member of Congress in a district on the border, including the Republican one, opposes a wall.
Last summer I asked whether the GOP was still a political party, or had become a cult. How strange it is, I wrote, that no matter what he does or says, or how badly they get clobbered in polls or elections, still no GOP official in our state ever dares break with him.
This shutdown was the most severe Trump-caused political catastrophe for Republicans yet. So it’s worth pointing out that this month Rep. Jaime Herrera Beutler, R-Battle Ground, in the southwest part of the state, repeatedly crossed him by voting to reopen the government. She was one of only about 10 Republicans in the nation to do so.
“This is what betrayal looks like,” thundered a right-wing blogger in her district.
No, it’s what sense looks like. Maybe ever so hesitantly returning here and there, in a party that has completely lost its bearings.