It used to be a chess match between the Democrats and the Republicans. In 2017, however, it’s Chinese Checkers with three players at the table: President Trump, the Democrats, and the GOP leadership. We’re talking, of course, about the now annual drama of a threatened (or in some cases actual) government shutdown as the various combatants draw their own red lines in the Beltway sands over this or that item which they will absolutely refuse to support.

Following the President’s comments in Arizona, specifically about getting the wall built or turning out the lights, The Hill reports that bookies are now leaning more heavily toward an actual shutdown…

“Believe me, if we have to close down our government, we’re building that wall,” he said during a fiery rally in Phoenix.
Trump’s shutdown threat is just the latest headache for the Republicans, who are already scrambling to mend deep internal divisions among rank-and-file members, manage disintegrating relations between Trump and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell…

It’s not just Mitch McConnell. When the subject of funding the border wall comes up as a do or die requirement for a funding bill, Speaker Paul Ryan and other party leaders are, at best, getting cold feet. At worst they are rejecting the idea. (Reuters)

“I don’t think anyone’s interested in having a shutdown,” the top Republican in Congress, House of Representatives Speaker Paul Ryan, told reporters on Wednesday in Hillsboro, Oregon, where he visited an Intel factory.

Ryan said building a wall along the country’s border with Mexico to deter illegal immigration was necessary, but added that the government did not have to choose between border security and shuttering operations.

At this point, President Trump may find himself alone on his own island. You can already sense the habitual instincts of the GOP leadership tugging at their heartstrings. The usual marching orders are to avoid a shutdown at all costs. Why? Because the media will blame the Republicans for it no matter the circumstances. When the Democrats were in charge of the White House and at least one chamber of Congress, the shutdown was blamed on the tyranny of the minority. When another possible shutdown loomed and the Republicans held sway, it was still somehow their fault. Nothing has changed since then in terms of the media circus so Ryan’s hesitancy is at least somewhat understandable.

But what if Trump makes good on his threat? Building the wall was one of his more popular ideas (particularly with the base) and a promise that he made on a daily basis on the campaign trail. And it’s not as if the amount of money we’re talking about doesn’t get squandered on myriad other proposals every time a spending bill comes along. All I’m asking here is… what risk does Trump actually face?

If he vetoes a bill without funding for the wall, a number of things would almost undoubtedly happen.

  • The Democrats would scream bloody murder and blame him.
  • The media would scream bloody murder and blame him.
  • The establishment GOP leadership would cluck their tongues and call it “regrettable” or something similar.
  • The President’s poll number might take a slight additional hit, but remain somewhere in the 30s and his base would love him.

If you agree with those four points, please tell me what in that scenario is different from each morning’s news out of Washington lately? That’s just another day at the office for Trump. He’s always spoiling for a fight, and this would be a big one. That scenario ends in one of two ways. The first is that Congress caves and comes up with at least some money to start construction on the wall, giving Trump room to claim a big win rhetorically if not in substance, and the government reopens. The second is the unheard of idea that enough Democrats and Republicans come together with some compromises to override the veto and pass a bill where both sides get something. (And the government still reopens.)

So I’ll ask the same question again. What does Trump really have to lose? And for that matter, what does the country really have to lose?