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Trump and Republicans easily win shutdown battle

  • The Democrats caved Monday three days into their government shutdown gamble.
  • This is a clear win for President Trump and the congressional Republicans.
  • The news media's failure to strongly support the Democrats was a key factor.
President Donald Trump, left, speaks as Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, a Republican from Kentucky, laughs during a news conference in the Rose Garden of the White House in Washington, D.C.
Al Drago | Bloomberg | Getty Images
President Donald Trump, left, speaks as Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, a Republican from Kentucky, laughs during a news conference in the Rose Garden of the White House in Washington, D.C.

We've had a lot of close calls in American politics lately from the 2016 presidential election to the special U.S. Senate election last month in Alabama. But the just-ended government shutdown battle wasn't a close call.

President Donald Trump and the congressional Republicans won it by a mile.

Checking the scoreboard on this one was simple. The Democrats had refused to vote for a budget or continuing resolution leading up to the shutdown deadline Friday night unless they won a continuation of DACA protections for the "Dreamer" adult children of illegal immigrants. It was supposedly a line in the sand to protect this generally popular group of about 800,000 people now living in the U.S.

But now the Senate has voted to pass the continuing resolution in return for a promise from Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell to take the DACA bill up in a vote by Feb. 8. In other words, the Democrats won the minor concession of moving the end date of the continuing resolution up one week along with McConnell's promise of the DACA vote.

On the flip side, Trump's refusal to cave to the Democrats and his aggressive Twitter barbs launched at them has endeared him to his conservative base. McConnell has reasserted himself as the master of the Senate's procedure and schedule. Oh, and it looks like the Democrats have also agreed to give in to Trump's demand to fund his plans for an augmented border wall.

Why this shutdown move ended so quickly isn't hard to figure out either. Some of the Democrats' usual allies in the established news media weren't giving them a clear pass over the issue. Even the New York Times in its lead paragraph of its initial shutdown story made it clear it was the Democrats who were unifying to shut the government down. The Associated Press sent out a headline used by outlets across the country that clearly said: "Senate Democrats derail bill to avert shutdown." At best, the major news outlets found naming those responsible for the shutdown to be more complex than usual.

Another key tell of where this was going came throughout the weekend, when the Democrats clearly spent much more time bashing Trump and the Republicans than speaking out in favor of the Dreamer immigrants. If this was supposed to be a heroic move to protect them, why weren't they much more a part of their political discussion during the shutdown?

The simple answer probably came from a single CNN poll that must have infuriated or at least frightened Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi. That was the poll that showed by a clear 56 to 34 percent margin that voters believe extending DACA protections is not worth shutting down the government.

None of this means we're going to see Trump's approval ratings soar or the Republicans will stave off the Democrats in the 2018 midterm elections.

But it does mean this shutdown gambit fell flat for the Democrats. They've gained nothing from it and united their opposition around the illegal immigration issue that set then-candidate Trump apart during his stunning 2016 primary election run.

This isn't the political Super Bowl, but the Republicans have just logged a win and the Democrats suffered a defeat.

Now, on to the next battle…

Commentary by Jake Novak, CNBC.com senior columnist. Follow him on Twitter @jakejakeny.

For more insight from CNBC contributors, follow @CNBCopinion on Twitter.