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Horowitz: Americans Blame President Trump for Shutdown

Tuesday, January 15, 2019


Donald Trump

Recently completed national polls confirm that by substantial percentages more Americans blame President Trump for the shutdown than Congressional Democrats. According to the Washington Post/ABC News poll, for example, 53% of Americans say President Trump and Republicans in Congress are mainly at fault, while only 29% say it is mainly the fault of Congressional Democrats.  A CNN poll records similar results with 55% of Americans saying President Trump is most at fault and only 32% saying the fault belongs mostly to Democrats in Congress.

Part of why President Trump is receiving the blame for the shutdown is that despite the president’s all out efforts to persuade the American people that there is a need for a high “Wall’ across most of the southern border, a substantial majority of Americans still don’t support it.  Fifty-six percent of Americans oppose the Wall, while only 39% support it, according to the CNN poll.   Further, only 1-in-4 Americans say that the situation at the border is a crisis. Last week’s nationally televised addressed to the nation and the president’s follow-up trip to the border failed to move public opinion.

The plain fact that President Trump is losing the shutdown fight in the court of public opinion is evidenced by Senator Lindsey Graham’s softening his strong support for President Trump’s position and calling on the president during an interview on Fox News Sunday to sign a short-term appropriations resolution that would open the government for 3 weeks as negotiations continue.

As I argued last in my column last week, however, just because Trump is losing, it doesn’t mean that the Democrats are winning.  Polling also shows that all involved are receiving low marks for their handling of the shutdown. As the real costs to people’s lives are driven home over the next few weeks, assuming the government remains partially shutdown. the political costs to all will ratchet up.   The overwhelming majority of Americans want the government re-opened and believe that politicians should compromise to bring that about.

But the one who is by far losing the most politically and stands to lose even more is President Trump.  Most Americans simply don’t believe that you should shut down the government to get your way on a policy issue and this sound general belief gains more intensity when it is over an issue the majority of Americans don’t support.  They also overwhelmingly oppose declaring a national emergency and unilaterally moving to construct the Wall--an option the president often mentions.

Additionally, President Trump’s incompetent and erratic handling of the shutdown is amplifying the belief of most Americans that he is simply not up to the job. Taken together, his failure to offer a coherent, understandable proposal backed up by facts, his constant changes of position, his inability to empathize with the people that are being hurt by the shutdown, and the sheer number of falsehoods he continues to put forth are solidifying the doubts people have about his capacity to lead.  As the shutdown continues, his already dismal job approval ratings are dropping even lower.

Senate Republicans are beginning to recognize that the political damage the president is doing may not just be to himself; that the longer this goes on, the more likely they will be collateral damage.  That is why you have already seen Republican Senators up in swing states, such as Susan Collins,Cory Gardner and Tom Tillis already come out for re-opening the government.  If the president refuses to change course, it is time for Senator McConnell to take the decision to continue the shutdown out of his hands There are 60 votes in the Senate for passing a clean resolution today and re-opening the government. There are also 60 votes for coupling some level of Wall funding with a path to citizenship for Dreamers.  Either of these options could end the current shutdown. and there would be in all likelihood sufficient votes to override a presidential veto, if it even got to that.  If President Trump won’t change a losing course of action, it is time for Senate Majority Leader McConnell to do his job.

Rob Horowitz is a strategic and communications consultant who provides general consulting, public relations, direct mail services and polling for national and state issue organizations, various non-profits and elected officials and candidates. He is an Adjunct Professor of Political Science at the University of Rhode Island.


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