Will Trump’s shutdown miscalculation drive him to declare a state of emergency?

The president has painted himself into a corner with no good options for him to save face.

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Trump is gambling that his base will come along with him on the government shutdown, well on its way to its fourth week, over building his border wallk. But he may have miscalculated quite how much they care about the wall as a solid actual project, rather than as a metaphor for reduced immigration in the abstract.

Here’s the problem. Democrats have no incentive to concede to Trump on their first showdown following their storming midterms victory in November, especially as Trump has decided to personally take ownership of the shutdown itself.

This may have been because Trump, despite heading the federal government, has little or no practical understanding of what it does. He gets his information from the swivel-eyed loons of Fox News – Sean Hannity, Jeannine Pirro, The “and Friends” – who say things like “what do we need a federal government for anyway.”

That’s all very well in theory and as rhetoric, but not so effective in practice. The ideological bubble Trump has surrounded himself with – Stephen Miller, Fox News – has pushed him to believe that he is winning a battle that he is actually losing. His base may want a wall in theory; but they also want their garbage to be collected and their mail delivered.

There is a theory that the longer the shutdown goes on, the more pressure might shift to the Democrats simply to be the adults in the room. The victims of an armed robbery might be against the robber when he first draws his gun, but after nearly a month of being kept hostage they may be inclined to say “just give him the fucking money already.”

But this is unlikely to be how things play out, mainly because Trump’s wider credibility is so obviously shot. When he claims, as he did on Twitter on Thursday, that he did not have a “temper tantrum” in his meeting with Democratic leadership, who really believes him? Finally, the chickens of lying with such ease may be coming home to roost.

The problem is that that leaves him with only one option: declaring a state of emergency. That gives him a scary amount of emergency powers, as detailed in this chilling recent piece in The Atlantic. He told reporters on Thursday that he was mulling that option.

What happens after that is anybody’s guess.

Nicky Woolf was the launch editor for New Statesman America and has formerly written for the Guardian and the New Statesman. He tweets @NickyWoolf.

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