Newsletter: The sad truth about Trump’s base and the shutdown

President Trump speaks to the media outside the White House on Jan. 14.
President Trump speaks to the media outside the White House on Jan. 14.
(Jim Lo Scalzo / EPA/Shutterstock)

Good morning. I’m Paul Thornton, and it is Saturday, Jan. 19, 2019. Tomorrow marks the two-year anniversary of Donald Trump’s presidency (more on that below). Let’s take a look back at the week in Opinion.

I never hoped I would eat my words as much as when I wrote in this newsletter last month — almost a generation ago by our dizzying political standards — that President Trump’s infamous Oval Office argument with Nancy Pelosi and Charles E. Schumer indicated that a partial government shutdown would almost certainly happen. Now, we’re on to guessing just how much damage this longest-ever-and-continuing shutdown will inflict on the 800,000 federal workers whose incomes have been suspended and on the economy as a whole.

The best way to answer that question is to determine what consequences Trump would have to endure to budge on his demand for $5.7 billion in border wall funding and reopen the government. The president softening his heart toward immigrants seems beyond the realm of possibility, but what if something else softens — like the rock-solid support of his base? Don’t count on that ever happening, says sociologist and physician Jonathan M. Metzl in an L.A. Times op-ed article:

Politics, of course, is often messy and confounding. People identify with particular politicians for reasons that don’t make sense to outsiders who don’t share their politics. Sometimes one priority overshadows another. Yet several themes emerged from my research.

One was an ability of GOP voters, especially those who mistrusted the government, to hold seemingly conflicting thoughts about government services. “I’d be dead without my Medicaid,” one man told our focus groups,” and next said, “The ACA is socialism in its most evil form.”

Ineffective government also played to long-held biases and anxieties about race. One white Kansas parent who identified as a GOP supporter insisted that school budget cuts were justified because “blacks just use school funds to rent party buses.” More frequent were vague concerns about ways that minorities or immigrants usurped undeserved resources, such as when one respondent claimed that, “the Mexicans, their food stamps, everything they want, we’re paying for it.”

Such concerns sometimes led to people standing on “principle” even when it harmed them. I’ll never forget how a man pulling an oxygen tank because of severe lung disease told me he would rather die (and soon did die) than receive benefits from the ACA because it used “my tax dollars” on “Mexicans and welfare queens.” Data that my research team amassed showed how these kinds of mortal trade-offs shortened lifespans, and sometimes disproportionately harmed white communities that form the core of GOP support.

To be sure, I encountered many GOP voters who simply believed in smaller and more effective governance, and whose political views were not driven by a sense that others were gaming the system. But such moderate voices were smaller in number among my research subjects, and they certainly haven’t held sway in recent elections.

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The economy is indeed hurting. The L.A. Times editorial board warns that the shutdown could actually cause the economy to start shrinking. Matt Welch encourages the Senate to do its job, pass a budget bill and override Trump’s veto if necessary. Jon Healey says the tit-for-tat between the president and Nancy Pelosi gives this shutdown fight the personal element it didn’t need. A new report on immigration shows that Trump’s reason for shutting down the government has no basis in reality, says Scott Martelle. Readers are still not on Trump’s side.

It’s been almost two years since Trump began lying from the Oval Office. Tomorrow, as I’ve already noted, marks the second anniversary of Trump’s inauguration — and the day after that marks the second anniversary of Trump’s first provably false whopper dispensed from the White House. Scott Martelle warns of the damage done to our democracy by the president’s compulsive dishonesty. L.A. Times

Another week, another potential impeachable offense — but this one could actually be dangerous for Trump. Virginia Heffernan delights in the possibility that Trump’s moral turpitude, in allegedly telling his former personally attorney Michael Cohen to lie to Congress, could bring real legal trouble upon the president. The second possible federal crime in which Trump has been implicated by Cohen prompts Jon Healey to warn: “Hell hath no fury like a fixer scorned.”

Busting the myth of Kamala Harris, progressive prosecutor: As the 2020 campaign approaches, expect to read more pieces like the one by law professor Lara Bazelon examining Harris’ work as San Francisco district attorney and California attorney general. Bazelon writes: “Time after time, when progressives urged her to embrace criminal justice reforms as a district attorney and then the state’s attorney general, Ms. Harris opposed them or stayed silent. Most troubling, Ms. Harris fought tooth and nail to uphold wrongful convictions that had been secured through official misconduct that included evidence tampering, false testimony and the suppression of crucial information by prosecutors.” New York Times

Gavin Newsom, job-doer — and that’s much better than what’s in Washington and several other states, says Paul Krugman. In contrast to Republicans content to draw out the shutdown, governors like Newsom are trying to shore up their state healthcare systems and proposing to spend more on education and housing. New York Times

Why doesn’t Newsom help out with the L.A. teachers’ strike? His efforts so far to help resolve the contract impasse between the Los Angeles Unified School District and United Teachers Los Angeles have been ineffective, and we haven’t heard anything from the state’s new superintendent of public instruction. The editorial board explains why intervention from both is sorely needed: “Newsom and [Tony] Thurmond are both seen as allies of teachers unions. Their interpretation of the district’s financial situation and their pressure for the strike to end should carry some weight with United Teachers Los Angeles.” L.A. Times