Poor Donald Trump. At least that’s how the president was feeling on Christmas Eve, according to his own Twitter account. “I am all alone (poor me) in the White House waiting for the Democrats to come back and make a deal on desperately needed Border Security,” he proclaimed. “At some point the Democrats not wanting to make a deal will cost our Country more money than the Border Wall we are all talking about. Crazy!”
The craziness Mr. Trump alluded to was this: The completely unnecessary partial government shutdown that began over the weekend.
How did we get here? Seventy-five percent of the federal government is funded. Funding for the other 25 percent, including departments like Justice, State and Commerce, expired at midnight on Dec. 21. Mr. Trump has asked for a mere $5 billion in border wall funding to be attached to the appropriations bill covering that remaining 25 percent. ($5 billion, by the way, would not come close to completing the whole wall; it’s simply viewed as a down payment.)
The House obliged; in its final days under Republican control, before the dread Nancy Pelosi of San Francisco assumes the speakership, the chamber passed a bill funding the government and including $5 billion in border security. The Senate, however, stymied by the obstructionist minority headed up by New York Sen. Chuck Schumer, refused. And so we find ourselves at an impasse. A quarter of the federal government has shut down. The president says he will not sign a funding bill that does not include money for a border wall, or “steel slats” as he has begun calling them. The Democrats, for their party, have indicated that they won’t budge.
Oddly, the Democrats once supported border security — and not that long ago. None other than Hillary Clinton boasted in 2015 that “I voted numerous times when I was a senator to spend money to build a barrier to try to prevent illegal immigrants from coming in. And I do think you have to control your borders.” Now they sing a rather different tune. Mr. Schumer and Ms. Pelosi are adamant that they won’t spend a cent on the wall. Ms. Pelosi has even called the wall “immoral.”
The Democrats have two reasons for opposing the wall. Both are political and have little to do with “morality.” For one, the Democrats claim, dubiously, that the wall would be “ineffective.” But as the experience of Israel and other nations has shown, that’s bunk: Walls can absolutely be effective in keeping unwanted populations out. The Democrats aren’t so ignorant as to not realize this. The truth, indeed, is that they oppose the wall precisely because it does work. Bleeding support from older and white voters, the Democrats have banked their future on a more ethnically diverse electorate. A wall would slow down the pace of ethnic change.
The Democrats are also shrewd enough to realize that blocking the wall will kneecap the president’s re-election chances. Mr. Trump’s central campaign promise, after all, was that “big beautiful wall.” Should they stymie his building of it, they’ll deny the president a powerful re-election plank; and they’ll also be able to argue, not unconvincingly, that Mr. Trump has not kept his promises.
Still, there is political peril for the Democrats in their position, and not just from the obvious hypocrisy of abandoning their recent support for border control. Controlling immigration is a popular position. Mr. Trump is for it; the Democrats, apparently, against it. They look stubborn and ideological by refusing to spend a mere $5 billion to help implement a policy — national sovereignty — that most Americans support. And that their obstinacy has provoked a government shutdown — never a popular course of action — will simply heighten public revulsion at their antics. In other words, they’ve shut the government down in pursuit of an unpopular policy.
In the end, then, we suspect the Democrats will probably want to make a deal; perhaps a bit less than $5 billion to save face, but at least something. Throughout the 2016 presidential campaign, Mr. Trump promised to “build a wall and make Mexico pay for it.” There was never much chance he’d get Mexico to chip in. He might have better luck with a new slogan now: “Build a wall and make the Democrats pay for it.” They just might.