Recent polls suggest that most Americans oppose the border wall, but the Republican base remains fixated on it, and its support actually seems to harden when it’s confronted with growing evidence of the scheme’s impracticality. These diehards don’t even seem to care that the shutdown puts the lie to Trump’s oft-repeated campaign promise that Mexico would pay for the dumb thing.
Nor do Republicans seem unduly concerned about the 800,000 federal employees who have been affected by the shutdown, or even by the fact that members of the Coast Guard may go without paychecks. In the new Trumpian reality, the wall is worth it. Costly, crude, dumb, and obsolete, it is now central to the GOP agenda.
At this point, it’s worth remembering that back in 2011, Republicans were so concerned about raising the debt limit that they signed on to a measure imposing $1 trillion in across-the-board spending cuts known as sequestration. The cuts—hitting both military and domestic spending—were designed to be so draconian that they would force a bipartisan budget deal to avert the pain of a budgetary bloodbath. But the deal fell victim to political dysfunction and partisan obstructionism, and the cuts largely went into effect in 2013.
As recently as last March, some old-guard Republicans still claimed to care about the exploding cost of government. Hard on the heels of a massive tax cut, Congress passed a $1.3 trillion omnibus spending plan that included big increases in both military and domestic spending. Republican Senator Bob Corker urged Trump to veto the measure, tweeting: “Please do, Mr. President. I am just down the street and will bring you a pen. The spending levels without any offsets are grotesque, throwing all of our children under the bus. Totally irresponsible.”
Read: Gingrich shut down the government in a tantrum 23 years ago
Despite some grumbling, Trump didn’t listen: He signed the bill, which, together with the tax cut, caused the annual federal-budget deficit to spike to nearly a trillion dollars. Republicans didn’t even have the excuse of a sluggish economy in need of a little juice; it was strong and growing. “Rarely have deficits risen when the economy is booming,” the nonpartisan Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget noted. “And never in modern U.S. history have deficits been so high outside of a war or recession (or their aftermath).”
Chagrined by their own fiscal recklessness, congressional Republicans scheduled a show vote on a Balanced Budget Amendment. The move was derided by the conservative commentator Barbara Boland, who wrote that enacting “gargantuan spending of this size and then claiming to support a balanced budget amendment is like gorging on a sumptuous feast while insisting that you want a svelte physique.”
The attempt to cover up their abandonment of fiscal prudence, she wrote, “only proves there is no low to which the GOP will not stoop as it continues to insult the intelligence of its voter base.”