Wednesday, May 3, 2017

The worst way to win a government shutdown fight is to call for a government shutdown

As you may have read, yesterday, our master tactician of a President tweeted (of course) that "our country needs a good 'shutdown' in September to fix this mess," referring to the fact that Republicans passed a spending package built around a bipartisan compromise because they didn't have the votes to overcome a Democratic filibuster in the Senate.  Fiscal years run from October to October, unless extended by partial continuing resolutions, which was what we were dealing with, so Trump is now advocating that the GOP force a shutdown rather than go for a compromise when the new fiscal year starts.

It is hard to act surprised when Trump says or does something phenomenally stupid because this is in the same week as him saying that Andrew Jackson would have solved the Civil War, which is, itself, in character for the guy.  After all, he'd be "honored" to meet Kim Jong Un, and he's gonna have himself a good ole' time with Rodrigo Duterte!  Still, let's take a moment to pick apart just how fantastically moronic this is.

Here's how a shutdown works.  Once government services stop being provided, people start getting more and more annoyed.  One side or another takes the blame.  The side that takes the blame is the side whom the public thinks is being more unreasonable.  That side has to cave.  Thus, it is a public relations war in which each side competes to look like the more reasonable party.

How does one lose a shutdown?  Historically, one loses by explicitly advocating a government shutdown.  Examples:  Senator Phil Gramm (R-TX) managed the 1995 shutdowns by running around the country asking people, "the government's shut down, do you miss it yet?"  The point was to make an anti-government point, thereby convincing people to support a reduction of government services, which was the Republican position.  The problem was that when people were inconvenienced, the stunt backfired, and since it looked like they were calling for a government shutdown, Republicans looked like the intransigent ones.  Fast-forward to 2013.  When you have tea-partiers chanting "shut it down!" at their rallies, it is hard to argue that it is the Democrats who are pushing the shutdown.  The side that takes the blame for the shutdown is the one that looks like it is pushing the shutdown.  This isn't complicated.  You win by looking like you are the side that doesn't want the shutdown, and are trying to negotiate in good faith.

And now, Trump is openly advocating a shutdown on October 1.  Why?  Just speculating here, but he does get advice from Newt Gingrich, who forced those idiotic 1995 shutdowns.  And they fit into Trump's bias towards always looking aggressive.  The problem is that you win a shutdown by not looking like the aggressor.  You win by making the other side look like the douchebags.  Trump is uniquely suited to lose shutdown fights, and that's without even getting into the fact that picking a shutdown fight in unified government dooms him to failure because blaming a party that doesn't control any branch is a hard sell.  The stupidity here defies measurement.

Postscript to the 1995 shutdowns:  one of Gingrich's flunkies at the time was a young, crying chain-smoker named John Boehner.  However, Boehner was smart enough to learn from those mistakes.  Once he saw the error of Gingrich's ways, he started to become an establishmentarian.  He turned on Gingrich and participated in the attempted coup on the Speaker in 1997, but since that coup failed, he found himself on the outs for a few years, and didn't rise the ranks for a while.  Why did Boehner try so hard not to let the tea party and the "knuckleheads," as he called them, repeat the mistakes of 1995?  He learned from Gingrich's mistakes.  McConnell learned too.  Amid the mess on 2013, McConnell said, "there is no education in the second kick of the mule.  The first kick of the mule was when we shut the government down in the mid 1990s."

I'd tell Trump to read Santayana, but let's be blunt.  The dude can't read.

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