President Donald Trump’s partial government shutdown now stands at 25 days. There is no end to the shutdown in sight, in large part because the president is reportedly indifferent to finding a solution even as the consequences become increasingly dire. “President Trump’s dismissals of his own party’s calls for compromise and his seeming indifference to shuttered federal agencies left the snowbound capital paralyzed Monday,” The Washington Post reported last night, “with lawmakers in both parties scrambling to jump-start talks but increasingly uncertain about Trump’s interest in ending the longest government shutdown in history.”
Trump’s Twitter activity Tuesday morning gives a hint to why he has been so blasé about the crisis of his own making: Fox’s propagandistic coverage has convinced him that he’s been winning the argument about shutting down the government to obtain funds to build a wall on the southern border.
Trump was live-tweeting a Fox & Friends segment in which the right-wing network’s morning show hosts fixated on a Quinnipiac University poll finding that 54 percent of American voters say there is a “security crisis” on the Mexican border. According to co-host Steve Doocy, the poll “essentially supports what the president has been saying all along for about the last month.”
In reality, the poll’s other findings are devastating to the president: Respondents oppose shutting down the government to force funding for the wall by nearly 2-to-1, and solid majorities blame Trump for the shutdown and oppose building the wall altogether. Those findings are not outliers -- five other recent polls show that most Americans think the shutdown is Trump’s fault, and the border wall is deeply unpopular outside of the president’s base.
Fox & Friends could level with its audiences -- which includes the president -- and let them know that he’s lost the argument. Instead, the hosts are still telling them that Trump has the upper hand, implying Speaker Nancy Pelosi will inevitably need to submit to his demand for the wall.
It’s not unusual for Fox to mislead its viewers by telling them exactly what they want to hear. What’s changed is that the president of the United States is a member of that audience and spends hours each day marinating in its misinformation.
The shutdown fight shows the perils of this feedback loop between the conservative network and the president who adores it. In December, as Trump was considering shutting down the government if he didn’t get wall funding, Republican congressional leaders warned Trump that the strategy was politically perilous and would not succeed. But the president’s right-wing media supporters at Fox and elsewhere warned Trump that he would lose his base if he didn’t go through with a shutdown, and in the end he listened to them. Ever since, the president’s Fox News cabinet has been urging him to “stay strong.” Trump, in turn, has been privately seeking advice from the likes of Sean Hannity and Lou Dobbs and publicly performing for their audiences.
Those hosts and their guests are doing everything they can to buck up the president and keep him from backing down, spinning out new strategies that they assure the president will succeed.
On Hannity’s show last night, Fox contributor Newt Gingrich said Trump should maintain the shutdown indefinitely, arguing that Trump could peel off “40 or 50 Democrats, combine them with the Republicans and get things passed in a bipartisan basis.”
Dobbs, meanwhile, urged the president to declare a national emergency, and denounced Republicans like Fox contributor Jason Chaffetz who warn against the precedent that might set.
“It's about time you Republicans get over yourselves and understand that this president is not a politician,” Dobbs bellowed. “He is a statesman, a leader of a nation, the free world, and he delivers what he promises. And why the hell should you worry about a precedent? We're dealing with a reality. It is a national emergency. There's not time for a little tea and a crumpet at 4 o’clock here to have a discussion about. Get it done and move it.”
“We both love this country,” he added later in the segment, “and there's only one way to save it and that's exactly what this president has said he will do and that is to get that barrier up and to secure these borders straight away.”