Polls suggest Trump and GOP could bear the shutdown blame

U.S. President Donald Trump stands in the colonnade as he is introduced to speak to March for Life participants and pro-life leaders in the Rose Garden at the White House on January 19, 2018 in Washington, DC. The annual march takes place around the anniversary of Roe v. Wade, Supreme Court decision that came on January 22, 1974.

WASHINGTON — As lawmakers pointed fingers on Capitol Hill and entered into a government shutdown, recent polls show Republicans and President Trump would bear most of the blame.

But Republicans still think they have the winning message despite the Senate blocking a short-term spending bill Friday night.

A national ABC News/Washington Post poll released before Friday night's outcome found 48% of those surveyed said they would blame Trump and the GOP while 28% would blame Democrats. Another survey by Quinnipiac University national poll found 32% would blame Republicans, 21% Trump and 34% Democrats.

“In the public’s eyes this will be another divisive moment, another moment of unease,” said Tim Malloy, assistant director of the Quinnipiac poll. “If you’re someone facing a 2018 election, any kind of chaos and unease is going to hurt you. And if you’re a Republican, which controls the House, the Senate and the presidency, you may be more vulnerable.”

The GOP-led House passed legislation to keep the federal government operating beyond Friday, but Democrats had the votes to sink the bill in the Senate. They want the package to include popular legislation to protect undocumented immigrants who came here as children, after the Trump administration announced plans to phase out Obama-era protections under the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program.

Both parties are working feverishly to spin a possible shutdown to their gain.

Republicans are calling it the “Schumer Shutdown,” after Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer, D-N.Y. House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wis., tweeted on Friday that "Senate Democrats are charging into governmental chaos."

Democrats, in return, point to GOP control of Washington.

“It’s hard for anybody with a straight face to say, ‘Republicans control the presidency, the House and the Senate. I hope Democrats don’t close us down,’” said Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt. “I tried that out on a very Republican group in Vermont. They couldn’t stop laughing.”

Read more:Trump cancels Mar-a-Lago trip as government shutdown deadline approaches

More: GOP committee blasts 'Schumer shutdown' as chairman disavows 'shutdown politics'

Related: Survey says: Voters like a clean bill to protect DREAMers

Any one event happening in January may have no meaning for voters in November. But Democrats say a shutdown would feed perceptions of chaos under GOP leadership.

“Specific events matter if they fit into a larger narrative of what’s at stake in an election,” said Ben Wikler, the Washington Director of MoveOn.org. “For most Americans, the Trump era has been a relentless cycle of phone-shaking news alerts and anxiety provoking disasters. A shutdown under unitary Republican control fits like a glove with that broader experience.”

Wikler said Democrats see DACA legislation as a “matter of fundamental principle” that should be included in must-pass legislation.

Such legislation is widely popular, with support from 73% of voters, according to the Quinnipiac poll of 1,212 voters nationwide from Jan. 12-16. Republicans and President Trump have called for a broader immigration package that includes more border security and a wall along the Mexican border, but the poll showed respondents opposed legislation 49-39% combining protection for so-called DREAMers with funding for a wall.

Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (C) (D-NY) speaks briefly with reporters after returning to the U.S. Capitol after meeting with U.S. President Donald Trump on the looming threat of a federal government shutdown January 19, 2018 in Washington, DC. Congress continues to wrestle with passage of a continuing resolution to fund the federal government past midnight this evening.

“What the polls are suggesting is that this mess reinforces the questions that people have about Republican governance,” said Democratic pollster Geoff Garin, whose polling of 12 battleground states showed strong support for DREAMer protections in the spending bill and blame for Trump and the GOP party in the event of a shutdown.

Even so, Josh Holmes, former chief of staff for Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., said polls don’t reflect the “huge advantage” Republicans have in what he says is the substance of the debate: Whether it’s appropriate to cut off essential government services for American citizens to consider citizenship for those who are not.

“I know that congressional leaders feel extremely comfortable about the political position they’re in here,” he said. “Particularly in the Senate, if you’re looking at states where Democrats have to run for reelection next year, the idea that their voters will support a government shutdown over illegal immigration is madness. Basically, everywhere that they have political problems, this makes it a lot worse.”

Senate Democrats face a tough electoral map in November. They are defending 10 seats in states Trump won and have limited opportunities to knock off Republican incumbents. They need two additional seats to win the Senate majority, while House Democrats need a net gain of 24 seats to win control of the House.

Republicans could be blamed initially, but Democrats could see “this game of political chicken” backfire on them, particularly in states Trump won, said Ron Bonjean, a former spokesman for Republican leaders in the House and Senate.

"One should not underestimate President Trump’s unique ability to understand the communications arena and to quickly turn the current evolving government shutdown narrative established by the Democrats upside-down,” he said.

Political independents were more likely to blame the Republican side by 46-25% for a shutdown, according to the ABC/Washington Post poll of 1,005 adults from Jan. 15-18. Those results among independents are similar to the 1996 and 2013 shutdowns, the poll says. Results have a margin of sampling error of 3.5 points.

Holmes said Democrats are in a position now that’s similar to Republicans in 2013, when Republicans tried to delay or defund the Affordable Care Act. Democrats have an “overheated political base” demanding something that’s impossible to achieve.

“It didn’t work very well for Republicans and I don’t suspect it will work very well for Democrats,” Holmes said. “The challenge that Republicans have in this scenario is to tell their story. If they tell their story, it’s a winner.”

Contributing: Deirdre Shesgreen, USA TODAY