At noon on Monday, after two days of government shutdown, Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer got to his feet and explained that the “Trump shutdown” was coming to an end. There was a slightly wistful quality to the words as he said them; one got the feeling that Democrats had expected “Trump shutdown” to play with the public slightly better than it did.
It’s not hard to see where they got that idea. Republicans decisively lost the showdown in 2011, when they resisted raising the government’s debt ceiling, and the government shutdown in 2013, when they tried to defund Obamacare. Both times, the public blamed them for obstructionism. Of course, the lesson that one could have taken from this is that, as Commentary’s Noah Rothman put it, “Shutdowns don’t work. Ever.” But Democrats could be forgiven for having taken a quite different lesson: that given the media’s friendliness to Democratic priorities, any shutdown would be blamed on Republicans.
Every government shutdown, after all, involves two sides, either of which could theoretically stop it by agreeing to the other’s demands. But as it turned out a few years back, virtually 100% of the blame fell on “Republican obstructionism.”
Given that Republicans now control all three branches of the government — given that they spent the last eight years gathering a reputation for intransigence — given that the media was apt to be much more sympathetic to an immigration bill than it was to the cause of repealing Obamacare — given that Republicans had taken the brunt of the blame not just for the shutdown in 2013, but for earlier ones in 1995 and 1996 … no, it wasn’t entirely crazy to think that Democrats might be able to achieve a double political coup: securing action on the DACA recipients and making Republicans pay the political price for Democratic hardball negotiating tactics.
But that wasn’t how it worked out. Despite their attempt to frame this as the “Trump shutdown,” Democrats didn’t win the first news cycle. Nor did things get better on Sunday.
Republicans took the blame for shutdowns when Democrats controlled the White House, because the public feels that the president ought to have considerable leeway in setting an agenda. (You can protest that this is not really how American government is set up, and you’d be right.)
The left has made much of the fact that polls show popular support for some sort of accommodation for people who are in the U.S. illegally if they came here as children. But they forget that the Affordable Care Act was also unpopular; the only reason the law wasn’t repealed before it took effect was that Democrats held just enough offices to block any Republican attempts to do so.