Editor’s Note: Rick Wilson is a Republican strategist and author of “Everything Trump Touches Dies.” The opinions expressed in this commentary are his own. View more opinion at CNN.

CNN  — 

Something has gone wrong in the past 48 hours with Mitch McConnell’s well-oiled Senate machine. Though the GOP majority leader eventually prevailed, 11 of his Republican colleagues stood on the Senate floor this week and voted to maintain sanctions on companies tied to Russian oligarch and President Vladimir Putin ally Oleg Deripaska, despite direct requests from the White House and McConnell.

Rick Wilson

Trump’s dangerously pro-Putin flirtation with leaving NATO has met almost universal opposition in the Senate chamber. The biggest sign, however, is the Senate’s softening support of Trump’s monthlong government shutdown.

McConnell is a wily, unflappable, and determined Senate leader, and Democrats who underestimate him do so at their constant political peril, which is why the nervous muttering inside the Senate GOP about the economic damage this ongoing shutdown is causing the nation – to say nothing of the political cost it is causing the GOP – is so notable. For once, the complaints and concerns aren’t from the Democrats whom McConnell spanks on a regular basis. The worry is coming from the Senate GOP, especially from some of the 22 Republican Senators up for reelection in 2020.

Unlike the class of senators who ran in 2018, when the GOP managed – quel miracle! – to gain seats in deep-red states like North Dakota, Missouri, and Indiana, the 2020 landscape for GOP incumbent senators includes many in battleground states – and in a presidential year.

Like all incumbents, the Republicans up for re-election in 2020 don’t want to meet the same fate 40 of their colleagues in the House experienced last year. They’d like to go into a re-election year with a strong economy and the sense that Washington is at least vaguely trying to do something more productive than engaging in political arson. For now, however, McConnell seems to be following then-House Speaker Paul Ryan’s strategy of 2018: Tie the GOP to the mast, and stick with Trump at all costs. His caucus is nervous, and rightly so.

Their pollsters are telling them how bad this looks. Their consultants are describing the ads their opponents will run against them in 2020. Their economic analysts are predicting grim results with each passing day. Even the White House is admitting the economy is suffering and the pain will get worse. Donald Trump’s juvenile insistence that the taxpayers fund his ill-considered vanity wall on the US-Mexico border has left the government in shutdown and the GOP holding the bag.

Beyond the politics, many of the Republican members of the Senate seem to have a growing awareness of just how consequential and dangerous the shutdown has become for the American economy and the American people. Washington has spent the last two years with Stockholm syndrome Republicans either defending or explaining away Trump and Trumpism. Often, they found a pathway to shrug off his behavior and minimize the consequences of Trump’s reckless and divisive leadership, but now the cracks are showing.

Donald Trump and Barack Obama both benefited from a decade of loose Federal Reserve monetary policy which unleashed a giant ocean of money flooding the capital markets in the wake of the 2008 economic crash. The Fed’s slow wind-down of easy money was like the end of a raucous party, even with the sugar rush of the 2018 tax bill thrown in. The stimulative effect of the tax bill pumped up a few last months of market lift, but what may be a wildly overpriced stock market is testing the limits of optimism.

Trump’s reality-TV trade war is costing American farmers and manufacturers billions. The trade war, combined with the shutdown’s immediate and long-term costs, makes the Senate GOP increasingly complicit in engineering an economic downturn, just in time for the 2020 election season.

The rules of economic and political gravity are kicking in. Federal workers are going unpaid. The ripple effects in the economy just from those lost wages are going to hit the economic statistics and the markets hard – and soon. Government operations like the Coast Guard, air traffic control, and the Transportation Security Administration won’t operate without pay forever. Even the President’s beloved Border Patrol isn’t being paid.

This President can’t tweet his way out of an economic and governance disaster of his own making. No amount of “this is fine” coverage on his pet networks will refill the depleted bank accounts of 800,000 families.

As much as some Americans – particularly those in my party – would like to fantasize that government isn’t an essential player in the economy, they’re wrong. As an economic conservative, I wish it wasn’t quite so central, but the truth is a stubborn thing.

Trump isn’t merely holding some faceless bureaucrats hostage for his wall. This shutdown is part of a deliberate new politics of visible, performative cruelty, much like the Trump-Stephen Miller “kids in cages” show waged with immigrant children as the victims. The stories you’re seeing on the news of government families working without pay and facing financial disaster are a feature, not a bug.

Trump views his presidency through a bizarre Manichaean lens; he must win the daily media coverage war. All else is secondary to him, but the issues are very real to the American people and the nation’s economy.

We’re locked now in a daily battle over a government that most people want reopened that is being held hostage for a wall that won’t work and which a majority of Americans don’t want. Someone is getting stuck with the bill for Trump’s show, and that someone is going to be the Senate GOP unless it acts – and acts soon – to end the shutdown.

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    Republicans have become like compulsive gamblers, pulling the Trump lever over and over again at the worst political slot machine in history. The increasingly rare occasions they get an outcome they like – a judge here and a regulatory fix there – are offset by the unappealing combination of malice and ineptitude of a White House willing to burn the economy to the ground to satisfy this President’s ego.

    Mitch McConnell’s political calculus is usually astute. The biggest question in Washington now is how many of his fellow Republican senators he’s willing to sacrifice on the altar of Donald Trump’s ego.