The one thing neither the liberal media nor the Democrats have taken into their calculations about the government shutdown is that President Trump has to win on the border security issue. He has no choice. If it takes six months, it will take six months. If it can be done next Monday, it will be done next Monday.
As commander in chief, President Trump has said controlling the southern border is a genuine national security issue and that failure would mean Americans continue to risk losing their lives to criminals who enter the country illegally. How does he back away from protecting American lives?
As a political leader, candidate Trump made controlling the southern border one of his major themes. He has been talking about it for three and a half years. If he were to back down, it would send a signal of weakness to his base.
Remember that despite endless negative news coverage from the liberal media (92 percent negative by some studies) President Trump averages 42 percent approval across a variety of polls. This number is rock hard because his base believes he is a genuine change agent. They shrug off attacks by the liberal media as the natural result of Trump being committed to real change.
If President Trump were to back down, he would resemble the Republican politicians who had failed to fight for the Tea Party movement – and earned the GOP-led Congress only 12 percent approval of the Republican electorate in 2016. Trump was nominated in part because the base Republican electorate was tired of leaders who promised big changes at campaign time and then delivered excuses when trying to govern. They currently believe Trump is different from normal politicians. So far, every indication we have is that he is truly different and truly a unique figure.
President Trump is also caught by the very book that first made him famous. Trump: The Art of the Deal was a huge best seller after it was published in 1987 and established Trump as a great dealmaker. He has repeated this claim to dealmaking brilliance over and over – as a candidate and president. To now walk away without a deal would be a stunning collapse of his reputation.
Having led congressional Republicans during the longest government shutdown up to now (until midnight at least) people ask me how to get to an end game. In our case, in 1995-96, we had a genuine breakthrough, and President Clinton agreed to work toward a balanced budget. That shutdown established the principle of tough bipartisan negotiating, and out of it came welfare reform, the largest capital gains tax cut in history, and four consecutive balanced budgets (the only time this has occurred in our lifetime). The shutdown was painful, but the outcome was consequential.
The difference between the 1995-96 shutdown and the current situation is the relentless hostility of Speaker Nancy Pelosi and the left-wing of the Democratic Party. Pelosi has an activist base which hates President Trump and would rather cripple the government than provide the $5.7 billion he wants to secure the border. When the President asked her if she would negotiate on the wall funding within 30 days if the government re-opened, she said no. He then did exactly the right thing. He got up, said bye-bye, and walked out.
When one side refuses to compromise, there can’t be a compromise. There can only be surrender or victory.
The Democrats have decided to start the new congress by trying to humiliate the President, give him nothing, and force him to surrender on their terms.
For President Trump to let them win under those circumstances would simply destroy his presidency and end his chance of re-election. After all, if Speaker Pelosi can win this round, what will her next demands be?
The President has three strategies to implement at the same time.
First, President Trump can reach out to the country and make clear that concerns about illegal immigrants killing, raping, and robbing innocent Americans are legitimate. As a first step, he should invite the families and friends of every person killed by an illegal immigrant to come to a White House gathering and then go to Capitol Hill to lobby their House and Senate members. Let the Democrats who claim this is a manufactured crisis look the victims’ families in the eyes and tell them they don’t count.
Today, Democrats care more about non-Americans who are illegally crossing the border than they care about Americans who have been killed, raped, and robbed. As this reality sinks in, a lot of Democrats will start looking for a way to get out from under the Pelosi left-wing machine and cut a deal to reopen the government and secure the southern border.
Second, the President can develop the proposal to help the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) recipients, who came here when they were young. Every day that passes, it is clearer that the Democrats hate Trump more than they care about helping these young people. The President’s supporters should flood Spanish language radio and other outlets with requests for people to call their members of Congress and demand they help the President help the Dreamers. Many Republicans have long said we can’t help DACA recipients until the border is secure – so do both at the same time.
Third, the President needs to remind the members of Congress, in both parties, that if he is prepared to veto left-wing efforts to block control of the border, they have no hope of overriding his veto. Republicans who get nervous (and we had these back in 1995-96, too) have to recognize that there is no possibility of enough Republicans splitting with the President to override a veto. Since Senator McConnell has adopted the right party position of refusing to even schedule a bill the President would veto, there will be no legislative solution to this shutdown without the President’s approval.
Finally, the President should relax some and accept that this fight may take until the end of February or later. The Democrats will not agree to compromise until they are exhausted and look increasingly stupid. As it sinks in to the average American that this entire struggle can end if the Democrats will only agree to protect the southern border, they will look more and more ridiculous. As the federal employee unions realize that their members are being left without paychecks because of a partisan fight over protecting the border, they will start pressuring the Democrats to cut a deal.
As the master of The Art of the Deal, President Trump knows that some negotiations must ripen before they can be completed. His job is to relax, stand firm, and let the situation ripen until the Democrats accept a deal that includes the southern border security provisions. Anything less just wouldn’t be Trump.
Newt Gingrich is a former Speaker of the House. He is also a contributor to Fox News and the author of several books.