Shutdown fight is not about the wall. It's about Donald Trump: ANALYSIS

Trump’s only face-saving option would be to convince the public that he’s right.

Shutdown fight is not about the wall. It's about Donald Trump: ANALYSIS
Carlos Barria/AP
January 9, 2019, 12:39 PM

It’s not about the wall. It’s not about a crisis at the border. It’s not even about border security.

And, despite the excellent job done by ABC News fact-checkers during and after the president’s speech, it’s not about the facts, not about terrorism, crime, drugs, who supported what barrier when.

It’s all about Donald Trump.

The hundreds of thousands of federal workers going without paychecks, the government programs unable to assist beneficiaries, the thousands of businesses affected by shuttering government facilities — it’s all happening to shore up support for the president.

If tomorrow Trump said the wall was all a big mistake and he no longer supported it, crisis over, his supporters would fall right in line. And Democratic opposition to the barrier would drop as well.

That’s why it’s not about the wall.

President Donald Trump speaks from the Oval Office of the White House as he gives a prime-time address about border security, Jan. 8, 2018, in Washington.
Carlos Barria/AP

Look at the polling by Public Religion Research Institute (PRRI), which specializes in religious and ethnic surveys, as well as partisan sampling.

In 2016, about two-thirds of Republicans supported the wall, that number has climbed to 80 percent, including 45 percent who strongly favor it.

On the Democratic side, the percentages in opposition have risen less sharply because more Democrats were opposed in the first place: 75 percent in 2016, 80 percent in 2018, with 60 percent strongly opposed. Substitute the word “Trump” for the word “wall” and you get roughly the same results.

It’s not about the wall.

The U.S.-Mexico border wall along the border near Tijuana, Mexico, Jan. 7, 2019.
Sandy Huffaker/Getty Images

You get the same pro-versus-anti Trump results when polling on the wall is broken down by education, age, ethnicity and religion. So Trump’s strongest supporters unsurprisingly also support the wall most ardently. Two-thirds of white Evangelical Protestants now say they favor it (as opposed to 58 percent two years ago); almost three-quarters of Hispanic Catholics oppose it.

If you’re for Trump, you’re for the wall and you have to support the government shutdown, that’s the message he and his Republican backers want to drive home.

Here’s South Carolina Senator Lindsey Graham, formerly a pro-immigration voice, appearing on Fox News after the president’s speech: "To my Republican colleagues, this is the best chance we'll ever have to help President Trump get border wall funding, steel barrier funding, and at the same time fix the loopholes. The only way we lose is to give in. If we'll stand firm, put deals on the table that make sense, we will win this on behalf of the American people — but if we undercut the president, that's the end of his presidency and the end of our party, and we deserve to be punished if we give in now."

So there it is — end this government shutdown and you kill the Trump presidency and the Republican Party.

If you believe the stakes are that dire, it’s hard to find a way out.

Trump’s apparent belief that government workers are mainly Democrats who will put pressure on their party to open the nation’s doors seems unlikely as long as public opinion continues to blame the president for the shut- down.

Trump’s only face-saving option would be to convince the public that he’s right—that a wall is necessary and worth disrupting all sectors of the country to achieve. So he’s going to the border to continue that effort but the president himself told TV anchors that he thought the trip was useless. His advisers told him he should go, but “it’s not going to change a damn thing.” That’s because Trump knows this is not about the wall.

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