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Fox News demanded a government shutdown — and got one

A lot of conservatives with big platforms were very, very angry at Trump this week.

The US Capitol is seen ahead of a possible partial government shutdown in Washington, DC, December 21, 2018.
Saul Loeb/AFP/Getty Images

If the government shuts down tonight over President Donald Trump’s demand for $5 billion for a border wall, feel free to blame conservative punditry.

This week Ann Coulter described Trump as a gutless “sociopath” who, without a border wall, “will just have been a joke presidency who scammed the American people.”

Radio host Rush Limbaugh said on his show Wednesday that without the $5 billion, any signing of a budget stop gap would show “Trump gets nothing and the Democrats get everything.”

Fox & Friends co-host Steve Doocy said that without wall funding, “the swamp wins,” adding that Trump will “look like a loser” without wall funding and stating, “This is worth shutting down” the government.

There’s no way around it: A lot of people on the right are very upset with Trump (and each other) right now. And they’re taking it out on the president — on his favorite television network, on talk radio, on podcasts, and online — and it’s worked to put the pressure on him. Trump has abruptly changed course to demand $5 billion for a border wall (a demand the Senate isn’t likely to give in to). And now the government is facing a “very long” shutdown.

In the words of Sen. Bob Corker (R-TN), referring to Coulter and Limbaugh, “We have two talk-radio show hosts who basically influenced the president, and we’re in a shutdown mode. It’s just—that’s tyranny, isn’t it?”

Why the right is very, very upset

The Republican Party of 2018 contains a myriad of factions, from isolationist paleoconservatives to “conservatarians” with libertarian leanings to foreign policy hawks to the deeply socially conservative. Yet since Trump’s GOP nomination in 2016, he has enjoyed fairly unanimous, if not always enthusiastic, support from a majority of the GOP’s most prominent faces, both in conservative media and in Congress.

Republican voters are still solidly behind Trump (his approval rating among Republicans polled by Gallup is at 86 percent). But unlike some portions of Trump’s base, the voices of the party who supported Trump because of what he could do as president rather than who he is as president are deeply displeased with him.

Some on the right are upset about the administration’s decision to pull out of Syria and, perhaps, Afghanistan — and are very worried by news of James Mattis’s resignation from his role as defense secretary.

Others are angry that more than two years into Republican control of all three branches of the federal government, Planned Parenthood still hasn’t been fully defunded. Then there’s that executive order banning bump stocks. And the continued existence of Obamacare.

But this week, many of the right’s biggest names were more or less united on one particular issue, with Fox News pundits and some of Trump’s most important surrogates and supporters leading the way: build a wall, or you’re done. As Fox News’s Laura Ingraham said on her show Wednesday night, “Not funding the wall is going to go down as one of the worst, worst things to have happened to this administration.”

The right gets results — sort of

Beginning on Tuesday, when press secretary Sarah Sanders said in a press briefing that the president was looking at “other options” for getting his border wall money while the president started talking up “steel slats” on Twitter, the right began pushing back.

They urged a government shutdown (and even the closing of the United States’ border with Mexico) in full knowledge that Trump was listening, even as Republican senators prepared to fly home for the holidays with no expectations they’d need to be present for a vote to keep the government open.

House Freedom Caucus Chair Mark Meadows said Wednesday that Trump’s “base will go crazy” if border wall money wasn’t provided in the stopgap government funding measure, and he was joined by Rep. Jim Jordan (R-OH), who tweeted about wall funding with the hashtag #DoWhatWeSaid.

That same day, Ann Coulter published a syndicated piece titled “Gutless President in a Wall-Less Country,” in which she wrote that contrary to what some might believe, many of Trump’s supporters were well aware that he was a “gigantic douchebag.” She wrote, “If anything, Trump’s vulgar narcissism made his vow to build a wall more believable. Respectable politicians had made similar promises over the years — and they always betrayed the voters. Maybe it took a sociopath to ignore elite opinion and keep his word.”

But she added, “Unfortunately, that’s all he does: talk. He’s not interested in doing anything that would require the tiniest bit of effort.”

That piece may have gotten her unfollowed on Twitter by the president. Then she went on the Daily Caller’s podcast to say that the entire purpose of Trump’s presidency appears to be “making sure Ivanka and Jared can make money.” But by Wednesday evening, Trump was arguing that the wall would in fact be built, “one way or the other,” saying that perhaps the military could construct it.

On Thursday, Trump said during a signing ceremony for the farm bill that “any measure the funds the government must include border security,” but added, that the wall is “also called steel slats, so that I give them a little bit of an out — steel slats. ... We don’t use the word ‘wall’ necessarily.”

That same day, Rush Limbaugh said on his radio show that Trump had contacted him and said, “if whatever happens in the House and Senate comes back to him with no allocation of $5 billion for the wall, then he’s going to veto it.” But that doesn’t seem to have soothed many of conservative media’s loudest voices, like Coulter, who tweeted a “border wall construction update” on Friday: “Miles completed yesterday--Zero; Miles completed since Inauguration--Zero. NEXT UPDATE TOMORROW.” (For the record, border wall replacement is already taking place, and new construction is slated for next year.)

That’s because contrary to popular opinion, many on the right who voted for Trump, particularly in conservative media, didn’t vote for a personality. As Coulter put it in her column, “The Washington Post loves to find the one crazy, trailer park lady who supports Trump because she’s had religious ecstasies about him, but most people who voted for him did so with a boatload of qualms.”

Rather, they had specific reasons for voting for Trump. Getting out of foreign wars, for example, or ending Obamacare, or curbing abortion. Or, most importantly for many, curtailing immigration and building a border wall. And they aren’t seeing much progress. And they’re not happy about it.

I reached out to Coulter, and asked her if her support for Trump was contingent on a wall, or whether toughened border security would be enough. She responded via email: “WALL — or whatever Israel has,” with a link to a Jerusalem Post article about Israel’s border security mechanisms, adding “definitely NOT a B.S., completely meaningless promise of “border security.”

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