Every shutdown in living memory, except the most recent one, has had one thing in common: Republicans got the blame. Of course, technically, no shutdown is ever the fault of only one side. A shutdown is caused by a failure to reach an agreement, and both sides need to play their part to make that happen. Why, then, have shutdowns redounded so reliably to the advantage of Democrats, and to the disadvantage of Republicans? The answer is simple: the public's interpretation of every shutdown is sifted through the biases of the mainstream media, and the media invariably sees Republicans as the bad actors in every political drama. Thus, when Washington goes to war, it is, according to the press, belligerent conservatives who have blood on their hands.
The miracle is that, in the recent shutdown battle, this historical pattern was broken. It was the Democrats who sought a shutdown, believing that more Trumpian “chaos” would surely pad their already sizable lead in the polls – but it was Democrats who blinked, ending the shutdown in its early days, believing that to continue it would be dangerous to their political fortunes. Why? What explains this turnaround, which is frustrating leftist true-believers to no end? They wanted a twilight-of-the-gods showdown with the demon Trump, but instead they got...a promise that their chief goal, a DACA fix, will be, well, considered. Not surprisingly, this anticlimax has brought many leftists to the brink of apoplexy.
The explanation appears to be that the Democrats misjudged the zeal of the American people for protecting illegal immigrants from the consequences of their (illegal) actions. Yes, Americans want to see young immigrants who were protected by President Obama's DACA program allowed to stay in this country, but they see no need to shut down the government to obtain a resolution of the issue post haste. (Witness the poll published by CNN over the weekend, which showed that by 56-34% Americans think it is more important to keep the government open than to save the “Dreamers”.) The Democrats seem to have believed that their political position was so strong that they could insist that the DACA problem be resolved without any concessions on their part. No wall, no beefed up enforcement of illegal immigration laws, no budget adjustments in the Republicans' favor – just give us our DACA fix, said Democrats, or else! The “or else” was, of course, a shutdown, that Democrats assumed would wound Republicans.
In addition to their misjudgment of the public mood, Democrats were felled by several other factors. In an age of constant media panic about President Trump's alleged depredations/insanities, the fact of the matter is that a little ole shutdown hardly seems as arresting as may once have been the case. The main effect of a government shutdown is to deny government workers their paychecks – an eventuality that can hardly irk most anti-government conservatives. Most remarkable is the fact that the liberal media utterly failed to incite bogus fears that Social Security checks would not be mailed; Medicaid and Medicare recipients would die in the streets; and airliners would fall out of the skies, for lack of air traffic controllers. Instead, the impression that most Americans seem to have received about the shutdown is one startlingly similar to the truth: that it was all cheap political theater, staged by liberals who were unwilling to negotiate in good faith. Indeed, the fact that the shutdown was planned, executed, and briefly cherished by activists on the far left is undeniable. This is evidenced by the fact that, in the final analysis, it was only aspiring Democratic presidential candidates who refused to vote to end it. They know where their bread is buttered, and they would not dream of angering the leftist horde that has been demanding that no quarter should be given in the struggle against Trump and his minions. The miracle, I repeat, is that the American people were ever permitted to perceive this obvious truth. The left's propaganda machine has never faltered so badly.
The upshot of the failed shutdown is this: Republicans not only “won” this round in American politics, but they may have gone a long way to permanently removing government shutdowns from the list of potential weapons in the arsenal of the party out of power. Republicans proved in this instance, after all, that, even with the connivance of a cooperative mainstream media establishment, Democrats were unable to make audacious and unilateral demands, shut down the government until they were met, and ultimately prevail. They proved, in fact, quite the opposite: that the Democrats are not united; that the longer a shutdown lasts, the more dangerous and unpredictable its effects may become; and, finally, that blaming Donald J. Trump for everything bad that happens will only get you so far in life.
With, we hope, the danger of future shutdowns receding, the truth is that Democrats are now in a remarkably weak position legislatively, and there is thus hope that they will show a new willingness to make deals with Republicans. Quite a few Democrats, especially the 10 (!) senators running for reelection in states that Trump won, are clearly prepared to negotiate. With any luck, this will drive an even greater wedge between these moderate Democrats and the leftist ideologues and activists who dominate the party's grassroots. Conservatives can sit back and enjoy the resulting spectacle of a bitter, bruising battle for the Democratic nomination for president in 2020.
It couldn't have happened to a nicer party.