Trump gives present to Dems

Jules Witcover, syndicated columnist

WASHINGTON — On Christmas morning President Trump gave the Democrats a major political gift by declaring the federal government is “not going to be open until we have a wall or fence, whatever they’d like to call it” on the southern border.

The flat statement reinforced the opposition party’s charges that Trump is failing to run the country, and is failing to fulfill his prime campaign pledge that the wall would be built and Mexico would pay for it.

Trump cited unidentified federal workers he said were standing behind him on the shutdown until he gets the $5 billion he wants Congress to give him for its construction. But Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer has told the president he’s not going to get it because he does not have 60 Senate votes to support a House bill to provide it.

Still, Trump clung to the shutdown, even as he was denying federal workers paychecks.

The president’s insistence that workers sent home were backing the shutdown was not supported by most public opinion polls. President Tony Reardon of the National Treasury Employees Union, representing 150,000 members at 33 federal agencies, called the shutdown “a travesty.” Congress and the White House, he said, “have not done their fundamental jobs of keeping the government open.”

The notion that a physical wall along the lengthy southern border with Mexico could be feasible and effective has long been subject to doubt but also to ridicule from the time of its first proposal by Trump.

His latest mention is that it would be 30 feet high, akin to a three-story building, and that “it is a disgrace what’s happening in our country.” As if to lend a touch of holiday spirit to his pipedream, he concluded: “But other than that, I wish everybody a very Merry Christmas!”

In all this, it appears not to have occurred to Donald Trump that his renewed insistence on the wall, in the Christmas season no less, spotlights not only his insensitivity to federal workers being denied paychecks by the shutdown. Just as important politically, it underscores his incompetence in keeping the government humming, with the White House itself in chaos.

He has removed or chased away key esteemed hires who constituted what one of them called members of an “adult day-care center” shielding what another other of them called a version of a six-year-old in the Oval Office.

At the halfway mark of the first term of Trump’s presidency, as still another Republican insider has put it, it seems “the wheels are beginning to be coming off’ the bandwagon. It has reached the point where some old GOP establishment figures are starting to consider demonstrating even a modicum of separation from the man who has hijacked the party from them.

However, as a group they seem unable to envision a challenge to a second Trump renomination out of the conservative Republican shell that remains. The president’s faithful army that still turns out for raucous rallies continues to buy into his riff on their anger and sense of victimhood, and dismisses his fictions out of hand.

Nevertheless, the specter of the Robert Mueller and other investigations into Russian elections meddling and other Trump financial and business scandals is growing ever-darker and closer to resolution, keeping this harassed president in the cross-hairs of determined foes, especially in Democratic ranks.

The infusion of 40 new House Democratic seats in the midterm congressional elections has created the political reality of the Democratic majority in the lower House under Speaker-to-be Nancy Pelosi, armed with committee subpoenas to keep Trump on the defensive in his various dilemmas.

The government shutdown of which he foolishly took ownership, and now tries to shift to the Democrats, is a major blunder ill-timed in the ongoing disintegration of his tormented amateur presidency.

Editor’s note: Jules Witcover’s latest book is “The American Vice Presidency: From Irrelevance to Power,” published by Smithsonian Books. You can respond to this column at juleswitcovercomcast.net.