For all the drama of the televised confrontation in the Oval Office, the odds are overwhelming that there won't be a government shutdown. The plain fact is that neither party wants one.
So what happened between Donald Trump, Nancy Pelosi and Chuck Schumer during those tense 17 minutes on Tuesday was more about political theater and blame-shifting.
The amount of money — Trump wants $4 billion more for his wall than the Democrats are willing to provide — is almost negligible. And the House Democrats aren't going to budge when they take over next month. What's at stake is the symbolism surrounding the president's signature issue.
The media verdict is that Pelosi and Schumer embarrassed Trump and boxed him into a damaging declaration: He now owns any shutdown.
As The New York Times put it, "The trick in Washington has always been to make sure a government shutdown is pinned on the other guy. President Trump is the first to ever pin one on himself."
With the Times saying Pelosi and Schumer "essentially goaded" the president into saying he'd proudly close the government for border security, The Washington Post says the Democratic duo "called out Trump's falsehoods. They exposed him as malleable about his promised border wall. They lectured him about the legislative process and reiterated to him that he lacked the votes to secure the $5 billion he seeks for the wall."
But there's another view, as these and other accounts acknowledged.
The border wall, and the broader issue of illegal immigration, is immensely important to Trump's core supporters. He wanted to send them an unmistakable signal that he's fighting for them and understands their concerns. And then, if he falls short, he can blame the Dems. Or, with his recent comments that some of the wall is already being built, Trump can try to cobble something together and claim victory.
The incoming House speaker seized upon Trump's tactic of brutally personal insults. Democratic allies leaked to reporters that Pelosi later told party colleagues that she felt like she'd been in a "tinkle contest with a skunk," adding: "It's a manhood thing for him. As if manhood could ever be associated with him." So much for the high road.
What the president may not have fully appreciated is that the party seen as triggering a partial government shutdown always pays a stiff price. The Republicans were hurt when they tried the tactic during the Clinton years and again during the Obama administration. But when Democrats were seen as precipitating a shutdown at the end of last year, they quickly backed off and made a deal within hours.
When real people are hurt — furloughs, delayed paychecks, national parks and monuments closed — the underlying issues get lost in the backlash. Of course, that may not be a factor if Trump doesn't really plan to take things past the brink.
I think it's great to watch our leaders debating serious issues on TV. Trump did that with lawmakers last year on gun control but never followed through, leading to criticism it was all about the show.
But let's face it, the process only goes so far. Pelosi and Schumer were right when they told Trump that a deal needed to be made behind closed doors. There's too much posturing, by everyone, when the cameras are on.
The frenzy over the meeting will quickly fade unless there's actually a Christmas-season shutdown. But the one clear loser was Mike Pence. The media mockery of a stiff and stone-faced vice president may have been unfair, but the images will stick to him like tarpaper.