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After Trump's dud, it's up to the Senate GOP

E.J. Dionne Jr. on

WASHINGTON -- President Trump's "big, beautiful wall" was never a serious policy proposal. It was a symbol to reassure his supporters that he would keep the sorts of people they don't like out of the country. It was also a memory device designed by his advisers to remind Trump to talk about immigration in every 2016 campaign speech.

But since Trump has absolutely no interest in policy, it is appropriate that he has shut down part of our government to defend a piece of rhetoric.

He didn't even intend to do this. Late last year, he signaled to Republican Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell that he'd sign a bill to keep the government open and McConnell dutifully got it through the Senate unanimously.

Trump closed a quarter of the government ("I will take the mantle of shutting it down," he said in December) only after right-wing commentators told him they would be very mad if he relented on The Wall. Thus did a chief executive who likes us to think he's strong cower before a few ideologues who have only microphones and pixels as their weapons.

This is the context of the useless, genuinely stupid fight we are in. It's why the president's speech to the nation on Tuesday night was so empty, so unpersuasive to anyone but the already committed.

Trump now loves this shutdown because it does four things for him:

 

It makes him the center of attention.

It tells his base that he is willing to stand up for the idol they adore.

It pushes aside inconvenient news -- about the Russia probe, about the administration's flipping and flopping on Syria, about the many administration posts that are empty.

And it creates the appearance that he is doing something when, in fact, he is doing nothing at all, except keeping large numbers of federal employees from carrying on and earning a living.

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