In February, Democrats agreed to fund the wall in exchange for a DACA compromise. The President initially agreed, but then walked it back. Just three weeks ago, the President decided to continue funding the government without wall funding until conservative backlash forced him to retreat and threaten to veto the legislation.
The President insisted on at least $5 billion for the wall. Vice President Pence offered Chuck Schumer a compromise of $2.5 billion. Schumer not only rejected it but threw it back in the President's face at the White House yesterday getting the President to agree it had to be $5 billion minimum.
Since then, the Democrats have taken back control of the House of Representatives and a majority of the Democrat caucus is opposed to any wall. They are also opposed to giving the President anything about which he can brag to his base. As a result, Democrats have hit on a strategy of denying the President the wall and forcing him to yield. They presume that in so doing the President's base will begin to turn on him and they know they will get a huge PR win for forcing the President to give up the wall around which he built his entire campaign.
I think the Democrats are wrong to think the President's base will blame him or reject him. They will instead blame congressional Republicans for not having his back, and they'll blame Democrats for refusing to compromise.
But Democrats do have the upper hand right now.
Most Republicans in Congress do not want the wall or think the wall will do any good. Colorado Senator Cory Gardiner, perhaps the most endangered Republican in the Senate in 2020, is already calling for the government to be reopened without wall funding. Republican leaders in the House may publicly be supporting the President, but privately they have no love for the wall.
On top of all this, there are a good many Republicans in Congress who privately want to see the President defeated on this issue. They want the humiliation for the President because they think he has humiliated them. It is payback time. The Democrats know this. They know they have time on their side. They know the President is not the negotiator he claims to be and will cut a deal and spin it to his base.
That's also why the Democrats have the upper hand. The President most likely will cut a deal, and his chief promoters will tell everyone that whatever the deal is, so long as it is something however small, that it is a massive win for the President.
Democrats know this too, which is why they are deeply opposed to offering any compromise that involves any funding for the wall. If they are forced to compromise by a change in public opinion, they'll provide a promise for future funding or something mostly meaningless. That change in public opinion might come as reporters push the GOP argument that some funding for the wall is a compromise and no funding is the Democrats keeping the government shutdown.
There is a new dynamic in Washington now, and it really is not concerned with overall public opinion. Where Republicans had to get the Freedom Caucus to agree to get things passed, Nancy Pelosi must get the aggressive progressive caucus to agree. Pelosi only secured the Speaker's chair with a few votes, and she will need every Democrat to agree to the plan. That aggressive progressive caucus is in no mood to compromise with Trump and sure is in no mood to compromise on the wall. That caucus's base of voters will not fault them for keeping the government closed as a way to hurt the President politically.
Democrats want to break the President and hope to damage his relationship with his base and then watch the Mueller report drop. If the President compromises on the wall and yields to the Democrats instead of dragging this out until Pelosi and Schumer cave, he will be creating real political problems for himself in 2020.