Why President Trump folded on the shutdown

Joshua Schuetz
Staff Writer

The federal government is going to reopen, and the longest government shutdown in American history seems to have finally, after over a month, come to an end.

There’s been a question in the aftermath of this whole mess: Why did President Donald Trump sign a bill to reopen the government? Why give in?

There are two answers. First, because House Speaker Nancy Pelosi is an experienced and remarkably effective leader, and second, because the political fallout from the shutdown was outweighing any possible benefit.

Speaker Pelosi held firm against the president, despite mockery and a great deal of political pressure to cave on the issue. As a consequence, the new Democratic majority in the House of Representatives has locked its first major political victory.

Government shutdowns are, generally speaking, a glorified game of chicken. Each side has conflicting demands, and each side wants to hold out for as long as possible, in order to make the other side cave, and hopefully making them lose face in the process.

It is a tricky game, and a politically dangerous one. Government shutdowns are toxic, to put it mildly, and stories of government workers being unable to afford mortgage payments and other basic necessities made this one particularly bad. 

The reason why the Democrats’ strategy worked is that presidents generally receive the majority of the blame for a government shutdown, since they’re the face of government. Democrats made the case that the president was holding the government hostage for the sake of a border wall. The polling indicates that the American people, by and large, believed that case, albeit with significant partisan differences. 

Of course, there is the question of how the conservative base will react. On this issue, there seems to be something of a split. One school of thought is that a shutdown was ultimately so toxic and damaging that it needed to be ended and that any benefit (that is, border wall funding) was likely either not to come or not to be worth the political damage. The other school of thought, prominent among talk show hosts, is that the reopening of the government signifies either a kind of betrayal or at least a degree of cowardice from the president.

However, it does need to be noted that this reopening of the government constitutes something of a quick fix. The bill to reopen the government only makes provisions for doing so for the next three weeks. It is entirely possible that we may face another shutdown in less than a month. Negotiations may well collapse, leading us into another shutdown situation. Nevertheless, we should celebrate the fact that federal workers will finally receive their paychecks.

Feature photo courtesy of the Associated Press.

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