Last week we had the hilariously abortive two and a half day government shut down when the Democrats refused to fund the government unless their immigration demands were met. That went well. The Democrats caved in record time and, in the process, pretty much destroyed the “shutdown” as leverage.
Then Trump floats a comprehensive immigration/Dreamer/wall/visa lottery/chain migration package.
The nationalist right went crazy. 1.8 million Dreamers, 15 million related family, villagers…Froth, foam…Betrayal. Never going to vote for Trump again and so on.
But the reaction of the Democrats, particularly their base, was brilliant. “The burning cross,” was mild. Faucahantus is livid tweeting “By ending DACA, @realdonaldtrump subjected 800k Dreamers to deportation. Now he wants to hold them hostage to Steven Miller’s anti-immigrant wish list. It’s insulting.” And so on.
Both reactions were entirely predictable.
From the Democratic side of the table, the deal Trump offered is never going to be acceptable because the Democratic base sees immigration as a must “win” piece of the “resistance”. Winning on the Dreamers while conceding on the wall, etc. is essentially out of the question because it would give the hated Trump something he might want. So long as wall/chain/visa lottery we included the Democrats will support no Trump proposal.
Which Trump knew going in.
What Trump also knows, but which the Democratic base has not taken on, is that the Dreamers turn to pumpkins when the Obama executive program, Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) expires in early March. Trump didn’t renew the program so, as it required an Executive Order to be renewed, it is dead. Deportations will not follow immediately, but they will most certainly be on the horizon unless Congress can enact some sort of legislation. (Which, Trump says, is exactly what Congress should do rather than relying on a continuing, likely unconstitutional, bit of Presidential legislation by pen.)
If DACA ends there is very little downside for Trump and minimal downside for the majority of GOP Representatives and Senators. Illegal immigration is not particularly popular in the US. But if DACA ends and is not replaced with legislation the Democratic base will go nuts. Unfortunately for the base, the legislative proposal floated by Trump is far and away the best offer he is going to make. His base is already furious that he has gone this far and while Chamber of Commerce Republicans and GOPe types are in favour of more permissive immigration solutions, Trump Nation is not.
DACA supporters are very likely to go over the top in the next few weeks bringing home the idea that these are not the sort of people America wants to bend over backward to accommodate. The Kamala Harris/Elizabeth Warren wing of the party will grow shriller and loonier as the days pass. Chuck Schumer might try for another government shutdown but the politics of that are unattractive after the previous failure.
All of which Trump and his people know.
So what happens? Schumer has no choice but to turn down a very generous deal. Then, “tick tock”. The deadline approaches. Mitch McConnell makes good his pledge to let a bill “legalizing” the current DACA regime reach the floor of the Senate for a vote. That bill, I suspect, will be much less generous than the current offer and it will certainly have the wall/visa lottery/chain migration provisions baked in. And then? Well then the genius Democrats will vote against it and, with no time left on the legislative clock, the Dreamers will lose their, always provisional, status.
Trump will have maneuvered the Democrats into voting against legislation which their core constituency desperately wants. DACA will die, but it will die at the hands of the Democratic Party.
At that point, Trump can dictate his terms. He does not have to deport every dreamer the day after DACA dies; in fact, there is pending litigation which will prevent deportation for months if not years. But now Trump can cheese slice immigration reform. He can work with the Republican majority to create legislation which will provide routes to citizenship and he can work with that majority to fund the wall, eliminate chain migration and kill the visa lottery. There is no legislative necessity for more than a simple majority on any of these measures except and unless the Dems decide to filibuster. Tough to filibuster a bill that lets, say, 400,000 or so of the registered Dreamers in provided that they meet fairly strict criteria.
It has taken Trump a while to figure out the game in Washington. Lots of errors and missteps along the way. But The Donald seems to be a quick study and he certainly knows how to drive wedges between Democrats. As the economy continues to improve and as the Mueller investigation descends into farce for want of any actual evidence of any actual crime, Trump is building political capital. He is beginning to understand how to deploy that capital. As he gets better at the job my bet is that his approval ratings will rise. If he breaches 50%, because the media have created such low expectations, he is going to be seen as a serious and effective President.
And then the indictment of Clinton cronies will begin. Do you think Huma will sing? I do.