Republicans are humiliated and limping into 2020
The shutdown fight is over, for now, with President Trump and his allies having suddenly and humiliatingly agreed to the original offer presented to them by Democrats more than a month ago. Trump's unilateral shutdown surrender came after one of the worst weeks of his presidency. A scallywag and longtime associate of Trump named Roger Stone was arrested in a predawn FBI raid and accused by Special Counsel Robert Mueller of serving as the go-between for the Trump campaign and purloined Russian dirt peddler WikiLeaks during the summer of 2016. And then an apparent wildcat strike by air traffic controllers in Philadelphia and New York brought the airline industry to its knees in a matter of hours.
Having accidentally accomplished more for organized labor in a month than national Democrats have in a generation, and with his polling continuing to disintegrate, Trump had no choice but to reopen the government, a move he announced in a strange, delusional statement in which he promised either to shut down the government again in three weeks or to unconstitutionally declare a national emergency. He and his genuinely hopeless advisers are badly wounded, huddled together like Robert Redford and Paul Newman at the end of Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, trying to decide whether to get captured or to go out in a hail of bullets.
Republicans did not lose this fight because Trump is, as Ann Coulter put it caustically on Twitter, "the biggest wimp ever to serve as president." Nor did they lose because he stupidly invited his adversaries onto national television and told them he would take full responsibility for the pointless, economically ruinous mess he was about to make. While he managed to put his own, uniquely humiliating spin on a political catastrophe, the outcome would have been the same even if Mike Pence were sitting in the Oval Office. Republicans lost the wall showdown because they don't command anything like a national consensus for their policies, and they never will.
For the entirety of this new century, America has been unable to make long-term choices about immigration — the kinds of choices that would constitute a coherent policy direction and release millions of undocumented Americans, one way or the other, from legal and social limbo. Trump has never had the votes — even a bare majority of Republican votes — to build a garish wall along the southern border, and he is the third straight president to lack anything resembling a legislative majority on immigration policy.
President Bush made comprehensive reform a major second-term priority, only to see a Republican-led revolt spike a carefully constructed bipartisan compromise. The last unified Democratic majority in Washington took power during a genuine national emergency — the Great Recession — and declined to use its brief, filibuster-proof Senate majority to address immigration. A similar effort in 2013 finally cleared the Senate but never got a hearing in the Republican-controlled House. Long after it was too late to act during their Obama-era window, Democrats finally figured out that the DREAMers issue was not just airtight politically but also potentially the leading edge of a movement to destigmatize undocumented immigrants more generally.
What has happened in the intervening years is that popular support for restrictionist immigration policies has collapsed. In the benchmark Gallup poll, the percentage of Americans who say they want to decrease immigration levels has fallen in fits and starts from 65 percent in 1995 to 29 percent in 2018. This remarkable public opinion reversal, which is just as politically significant as the dramatic increase in support for marriage equality, is wildly unappreciated as a driver of the president's struggles on the issue.
The sea change in the public's immigration attitudes makes Republicans' spit-flecked rejection of previous compromises all the more puzzling, and a reminder that the fluke election of a unified Republican government in 2016 allowed the party to spend two more years avoiding a reckoning with its toxic policies. When you can, visibly, see public opinion shifting against you, the repeated failure to bargain means that you are abandoning policy gains to be captured by your opponents. And by refusing the Democrats' immigration compromise last year, Republicans functionally fled the battlefield and left the engines on their tanks running.
Perhaps the president now understands, in a way he did not in November, that he and his party lost the midterms, and that even the continental drift pace of legislative achievement he could count on earlier in his fading presidency is no longer available to him. But the embarrassing rout of the president's shutdown strategy by forces with control of only one branch of the American government should also be something that causes the Ann Coulter wing of the Republican Party to pause and reflect.
Democrats are emboldened on immigration for obvious reasons. A triumphant Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), having exposed the president as the tremulous, sniffing pushover that he has always been, wasted no time making it clear that she was not changing a thing about her negotiating position. "Have I not been clear about the wall?" she asked. Can you blame her? There's a reason Trump has never bestowed one of his diminutive monikers on Pelosi: She outclasses, outsmarts, and out-maneuvers him effortlessly.
Not only are Democrats starting to sniff the unmistakable scent of total victory in 2020, but they also have time and public opinion on their side. If they were being offered anything truly meaningful by Trump, they might be forced to consider a compromise — after all, while Trump is deeply vulnerable, there is no guarantee that Democrats will seize either the presidency or the Senate next year.
But you don't sue for peace when you can see the first lonely spires of the enemy's capital rising up before you. You attack. Congressional Republicans seem to be starting to understand that their 2020 prospects are grim. That's why Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) released a group of vulnerable Republican senators to vote for the Democratic plan nearly two years before they will face re-election. For the first time, Democrats can squint and see an immigration future that dramatically decreases the reliance on ICE barbarism and creates a path to citizenship for millions of undocumented immigrants. A wall is obviously not part of that plan.
Increasingly, it doesn't seem like a President Trump is part of anyone's plan for anything. Politically hemmed in, with nothing but a preposterous, legally dubious threat to wield dictatorial powers left in his toolbox, the president is islanded in a sea of stupidity, his rickety lifeboat taking on water as the Mueller investigation threatens to pin crime after crime on him and his hapless associates.
"Build a wall and crime will fall," shouts the president on Twitter. No one is listening, no one cares. The only thing that seems likely to fall, at this point, is his presidency, and soon.