The Corner

Politics & Policy

Get Ready for Some High-Stakes Brinksmanship

President Donald Trump speaks with Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., in the White House in Washington, D.C., December 11, 2018. (Kevin Lamarque/REUTERS)

Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer clearly thinks that he has President Trump on the ropes, declaring on Sunday that “It will never pass the Senate, not today, not next week, not next year. So President Trump, if you want to open the government, you must abandon the wall, plain and simple.”

For Trump, abandoning the wall would probably amount to conceding defeat in the 2020 presidential election. Trump ran on a lot of promises in the 2016 presidential race, but the wall was perhaps his biggest and most tangible one, starting right in his announcement speech: “I would build a great wall, and nobody builds walls better than me, believe me, and I’ll build them very inexpensively. I will build a great, great wall on our southern border and I’ll have Mexico pay for that wall.”

We’ve been through plenty of shutdowns before — this is the third of 2018. Usually they’re short-lived and are resolved by splitting the difference between two desired funding levels. But by publicly drawing a red line over any wall funding — after reportedly offering $1.6 billion in earlier rounds of negotiations — Schumer is setting up a situation where any level of wall funding represents a considerable concession.

Meanwhile, late last night, Trump tweeted “We need Border Security, and as EVERYONE knows, you can’t have Border Security without a Wall”; and a few days ago he said the wall was “DESPERATELY NEEDED.” He’s ruling out any wiggle room where he gets money for “border security” but not a wall and goes back to arguing, as he did four days ago, that the “Border is tight.”

The higher the stakes, the tougher it is to reach a compromise — and the more that each side publicly pledges to not budge from their positions, the more difficult it is to swallow any concessions. Either Schumer or Trump will walk away from this deal having an extremely difficult case to make to their supporters.

For example, perhaps this ends with a deal for the originally proposed $1.6 billion, and Trump feeling like he won a great concession after Schumer had insisted upon zero. But Schumer will have to tell the Democratic grassroots that he held Trump to only $1.6 billion for an idea that they find wasteful, dumb, and inherently xenophobic.

The other question to keep in mind is, if the government shutdown stretches on for more than a week, which party feels more pressure from government workers to get the government reopened?

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