Senator Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) just got beaten by Jell-O.
After talks to reopen the government stalled on Saturday, the Senate Minority Leader said, “negotiating with this White House is like negotiating with Jell-O, it is next to impossible.” Schumer also warned, “there needs to be a big deal on a range of topics—including not just immigration, but also domestic spending levels—for the government to reopen.” Forty-eight hours later, citing Trump’s “refusal to compromise,” Schumer joined 31 Democratic senators to reopen the government.
Empty-handed. No deal.
If Trump is Jell-O, Schumer is pudding. And the Democrats’ prospects for winning the House and Senate this November could be toast.
For long-suffering Republican Party activists and observers like myself, this weekend felt different. We waited for the usual cave-in, the standard Republican capitulation, another retreat by the Stupid Party. When Trump announced he would meet with Schumer on Friday afternoon, that familiar sense of doom set in: Here we go, the Republicans are gonna take it on the chin just like we did for eight years with Obama.
But Friday night, after Schumer left the White House, Trump tweeted this:
Not looking good for our great Military or Safety & Security on the very dangerous Southern Border. Dems want a Shutdown in order to help diminish the great success of the Tax Cuts, and what they are doing for our booming economy.
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) January 20, 2018
The president spent the weekend shaping the GOP’s message: The military and millions of legal, tax-paying American citizens should not be held hostage to Democrats’ demands over DACA. In one of his most popular tweets, Trump said:
Democrats are holding our Military hostage over their desire to have unchecked illegal immigration. Can’t let that happen!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) January 20, 2018
Amazingly, Republicans stayed on message, pushing the president’s theme. House Speaker Paul Ryan called out Schumer and Senator Dick Durbin for acting in bad faith, using their own words against them from the 2013 government shutdown. An animated Ryan said on Face the Nation that the Senate Minority Leader needed to “end the politics of idiocy,” and the usually-diplomatic Speaker trolled Schumer all weekend with the hashtag #SchumerShutdown.
Even some of Ryan’s more right-leaning detractors in the House applauded his tough approach. Politico reported that “rank-and-file Republicans—including some of his fiercest critics on the right flank—are applauding Ryan’s unwavering position during the shutdown. His stance, in a nutshell: As long as the government’s closed, there will be no immigration negotiations.” Rep. Mark Walker (R-N.C.) told Politico that “Ryan’s leadership of the conference during the shutdown has “created unity” unlike he’s ever seen in the often-divisive GOP conference.”
Florida Senator Marco Rubio, one of the so-called Gang of Eight that pushed for an amnesty bill in 2013, laid out his views on the shutdown and DACA, which largely aligned with Trump’s position:
There is nothing in the funding bill the Democrats oppose.They voted against it & shutdown the govt. because it didn’t include #DACA 1/8
— Marco Rubio (@marcorubio) January 20, 2018
A CNN poll showing most Americans preferred avoiding a government shutdown over continuing DACA—and that Democrats would be blamed for shutting down federal services—emboldened Trump and the GOP. Democrats hit a Jell-O wall and caved.
Ah, the sweet—and unfamiliar—taste of congressional Republican victory.
One unappreciated reason why Republicans voted for Donald Trump was their growing frustration with the feckless leadership in Washington. Most of the people I know who voted for Trump did so as not just as a message to the Clinton machine, but also to folks like Paul Ryan, Mitch McConnell, John McCain and others who failed to use their majority status to fight President Obama and his policies. Time and again, the Thank-You-Sir-May-I-Have-Another GOP leaders were slapped around by Obama and the media. Rank-and-file Republicans were fed up with losing.
No matter how crass, uncouth, or inelegantly Trump presents his case, most Republicans see it as a refreshing departure from the mealy-mouthed leaders of the past (think Mitt Romney.) GOP candidates should borrow Trump’s backbone—not his coattails—and finally, and forcefully, defend the agenda Republicans have promised for decades.
There are more encouraging signs for the GOP’s electoral chances this November that were not lost on Senate Democrats running for re-election in states that Trump won. Despite giddy predictions by left-wing opinion writers and NeverTrump “conservatives” that last week’s win by the Democrats in a Wisconsin state senate race portends disaster for Republicans this fall, a spate of new polls proves otherwise.
An in-depth poll by CNN shows 69 percent of Americans rate the country’s economic condition as “good” or “very good,” the highest number since February 2001, and 12 percentage points higher than Obama’s last week in office. Forty-seven percent said they are financially better off now than they were a year ago. Independents approve of Trump’s handling of the economy, 52 percent to 38 percent, and all 54 percent of all respondents agreed it was likely Trump would “create good paying jobs in economically challenged areas.” A majority of voters also said they think Trump will defeat ISIS, build the wall along the southern border, and renegotiate the North American Free Trade Agreement.
A Washington Post-ABC News poll reflects similar sentiments. Fifty-eight percent of Americans view the economy positively, and respondents were evenly split on issues such as the crackdown on illegal immigration, cutting back regulations on businesses, and reducing the number of federal employees. (The poll also asked some really stupid questions: “Do you think Trump is or is not a genius?” Really?) Although the Post-ABC News poll shows a 51-39 percentage point advantage for Democrats in the generic congressional poll, the RealClearPolitics average has the gap at 7.8 point Democratic advantage, a slide from a high of 13 percent on Christmas Day.
Of course, not all the news is positive. Congress’s approval rating remains a dismal 16 percent, lower than it was when Republicans took control of the House in 2010. Trump continues to be his own worst enemy as far as his tone and approach: Despite high marks for the economy and foreign policy, Trump still has low approval ratings for how he conducts himself as president. Those figures are largely fueled by an intractable Democratic base that refuses to accept the election results and wants the president impeached. In the CNN poll, 85 percent of Democrats said they “strongly disapprove” of how Trump is handling his job as president, despite the fact that 60 percent of them rated the economy as “good” or “very good.”
If the past few days offered any lesson, it is that Republicans can capitalize politically by exposing a Democrat Party with no message and no policy agenda. This is Clinton-Trump 2.0. He pulled no punches to defeat Hillary Clinton, and did it in a fashion no other Republican presidential candidate would have had the nerve to. Trump is governing the same way, and giving much-needed spine to the jellyfishes (I see a trend here) in GOP leadership.
GOP candidates don’t need Trump’s coattails, they need to borrow his backbone for the next six months. This weekend proved how that can work—again.