Horowitz: Distrust of Trump Complicates Reaching a Shutdown Solution

Tuesday, January 08, 2019
Rob Horowitz, GoLocalWorcester MINDSETTERâ„¢

President Trump’s reflexive dishonesty is not only costing him with the American people, the overwhelming majority of whom now distrust him; it is making the reaching of agreements with Congressional leaders and other politicians of either party far more difficult. For while only about one-out-of-three Americans regard the president as trustworthy, according to recent national polling, the percentage of his fellow elected officials by all accounts who believe his word is good is far below that low percentage.

Distrust of Trump by nearly all the other relevant political actors is making finding a principled compromise to end the current partial government shutdown more difficult than it would be otherwise. It is the case that President Trump has the most to lose, since he triggered the shutdown over funding for a border wall that does not have the support of the majority of the nation and for which he and his administration have failed to make a consistent, coherent and fact-based case. Even when the professed reasons for a shutdown may be popular, most people don’t believe that it is responsible to shut-down the government to get your way. Just because the president is losing, however, doesn’t mean that the Democrats will end up winning. The longer a shut- down goes on and the coverage of its negative effects on people’s lives builds, the more people blame everyone involved. It becomes another example of broad-based dysfunction in Washington, DC.

As a result, there are strong political incentives for all involved to end the shutdown.  But to steal a phrase it does take some “honor among thieves.” Even in today’s polarized, partisan political environment, congressional leaders reach agreements across party lines routinely to enable the basic functioning of the institution.  This is because most political leaders in their negotiations with other political leaders, contrary to popular perception, keep their word.  They understand that to be effective they must be reliable at least in this regard.

In contrast, President Trump is manifestly unreliable and has demonstrated time and again that his word is not his bond.  The most recent example is that he initially signaled that he would sign a clean appropriations resolution with the $1.6 billion of border security funding he originally requested. Based on this signal, Senate Majority Leader McConnell(R-KY) passed the continuing appropriations resolutions required to keep the government open with overwhelming bi-partisan support. But when Trump received the predictable criticism from Rush Limbaugh, Ann Coulter and other fixtures of right-wing media for not fighting hard enough for ‘wall’ funding, he reversed course, leaving Senate Republicans in a difficult to an impossible political situation. Similarly, Democrats reached a compromise on immigration with Trump earlier this year, which would have included $25 billion of wall funding and a path to citizenship for the dreamers. But Trump abandoned that agreement when he received pushback from hard-line anti-immigration voices in his Administration.

Additionally, Trump continually undermines the people he sends to negotiate on his behalf by not backing up and often contradicting what they say at the negotiating table or to the media.  As a result, the other parties involved don’t believe that Vice-President Pence, Chief of Staff Mulvaney, or even his own son-in-law, Jared Kushner, can really speak for the president.

Over the weekend, and only as a result of a request from Democrats in Congress, the Administration finally provided some details about what they would do with their requested $5.7 billion, spelling out that the "Wall" would now be made of steel and adding a request for additional funding for more law enforcement agents, detention beds, and in some attempt to attract Democratic  member of Congress ,funding for “urgent humanitarian needs,’ including medical treatment.

As Representative David Cicilline told Chris Wallace on Fox News Sunday, ‘The government will reopen when the Republicans in the Senate and the president come to their senses and recognize that we shouldn't be shutting down the government if they don't get their way.”  Whether or not the congressman’s prediction turns out to be accurate, hopefully, one take away from this debacle is all sides recognize that shutdowns should never be used as a vehicle to get their policies adopted; it causes people real pain and never ends well politically.  

But now that we are here, thanks to the president, in this unenviable place, finding a way out is made far more difficult because one thing all the other players agree on---no matter their policy disagreements--is President Trump cannot be trusted.

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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