Judd Gregg: Walled in by a wall

Judd Gregg: Walled in by a wall
© Getty Images

President TrumpDonald John TrumpWinners and losers from the South Carolina debate Five takeaways from the Democratic debate Democrats duke it out in most negative debate so far MORE has accomplished quite a feat in American politics — he has made the middle angry.  Their anger is directed at him.

In our politics, anger has been the energizing force mainly on the hard right and hard left.

These folks used to be on the fringes of political dialogue.


In recent years, with the rise of the internet, the pervasiveness of social media and the dominance of 24/7 cable news, those at the fringes — their rhetoric steeped in anger and hate — have gained a disproportionately loud voice.

But the people in the middle of the American political spectrum — people who are center-left, center-right or just center — have not typically engaged in the vitriol of the hard right or left.

For the most part, these Americans have been primarily focused not on intense debate but on doing their jobs, raising their families and living good lives.

Now they are frustrated — and angry.

They have never had much confidence in the federal government but at least they tolerated it. They hoped for the best from the folks they sent to Washington to govern.

This latest shutdown has changed their attitude.

It has caused many non-activist Americans to reflect on President Trump and his antics, and react with disgust.

They wonder how they could be led in such an incompetent manner. They may not have the same intensity as the shouters on the left and right, but they are angry that our nation finds itself in this state of chaos.

Of course, theirs’ should be an alienation from the Democratic leadership in Congress as well as the president. But the presidency is utterly unique. As Harry Truman so succinctly pointed out, “the buck stops here.”

From a purely political point of view, the irony of this state of play is extraordinary.

The president has listened to the dubious counsel of talking heads like Sean Hannity and Laura Ingraham, and he has dug himself into a hole.

He has made his fate rise or fall on whether he gets approximately $5 billion for a wall along the southern border.

This is an illusory exercise.

Even the sum the president wants will build only a very short wall. When you are managing a government that is spending approximately $4.5 trillion a year, it is inane to wrap yourself up in controversy over one-thousandth of that spending.


The president has followed non-elected advisers who have never had to shoulder the responsibility of actually governing and have the political acumen of a collection of squirrels.

In doing so, he has allowed himself to become the promoter of a shutdown that middle Americans found incomprehensible, unnecessarily damaging to everyday life and just plain mean.

He has not been able to turn this into a debate on immigration, where he holds the high ground. Rather, he has turned his incessant call for a wall into a self-inflicted wound, causing serious hurt to his capacity to be seen as a strong and credible leader.

He has not satiated his base. He has instead angered and driven into opposition the people who decide most elections in America: the voters in the middle.

Unfortunately for Republicans, this comes at a time when the opportunity to take a significant and defining step toward dominating Middle American politics is unusually ripe.

Having taken control of the House of Representatives, the Democratic Party is in the process of taking itself out of the mainstream of American politics.

The Democrats are vociferously and unabashedly turning their party over to the most aggressive members of their liberal base. They are moving to reform their party in the image of European socialist parties.

They have simply jumped the rails. They no longer support a market economy, the historic driver of opportunity in our nation, but have opted with great relish to endorse socialism as a way to gain power.

The ideas of Sens. Bernie SandersBernie SandersWinners and losers from the South Carolina debate Five takeaways from the Democratic debate Sanders most searched, most tweeted about candidate during Democratic debate MORE (I-Vt.), Elizabeth WarrenElizabeth Ann WarrenWinners and losers from the South Carolina debate Five takeaways from the Democratic debate Sanders most searched, most tweeted about candidate during Democratic debate MORE (D-Mass.) and the new posse that is trying to outflank them to the left are not remotely acceptable to most Americans in the middle.

But because the president has obsessed over a $5 billion wall — and made it the cause for a totally inappropriate closure of a quarter of the government — the Democratic self-immolation on the stake of socialism has been overlooked.

The president’s greatest strength in 2016 was that he spoke for and to the frustrations of people outside the elitist, politically correct circles of Washington, New York and San Francisco.

The president gave people — not only his vociferous “base” but also people in Main Street America — leadership that rejected the superciliousness of the left, which tells people how to live their lives.

Every day, the president and congressional Republicans should be eviscerating Democrats who appear to believe that following the path of Venezuela, Cuba, Argentina and numerous failed European leftist parties is an appropriate approach for our nation.

The president and the Republican Congress should be pointing out vociferously that ‘Medicare For All’ means Rationing For All, and the undermining of the forces that drive medical breakthroughs.

The president and the Republican Congress should be pointing out that the new Democratic policies of universal employment and guaranteed minimum income are frauds — political exercises in snake-oil salesmanship.

The president and the Republicans in Congress should be calling out the idea of a uniform national minimum wage, demonstrating that it is a recipe for driving down employment and opportunity for part-time-working college students and entry-level unskilled workers.

The president and the Republicans in Congress should be regularly embarrassing the new Democratic leadership with examples of the historic failures of socialism.

But Republicans and especially the president are missing their opportunity to reject this Democratic Socialist advance.

They are passing up the chance to connect with most Americans who want a government that embraces individual entrepreneurship and the opportunities available from a market-driven economy.

This failure to support the themes that have made our country great — in the face of the overt attack on those themes from the new Democratic Socialists — is driven by a singular obsession with a simplistic policy.

Republicans in Congress and the president are walled in by the wall.

Judd Gregg (R) is a former governor and three-term senator from New Hampshire who served as chairman and ranking member of the Senate Budget Committee, and as ranking member of the Senate Appropriations Foreign Operations subcommittee.