In certain ways, the battle over the “dreamers” perfectly captures what has become of the Trump-era GOP. House Speaker Paul Ryan has dramatically promised that President Donald Trump and Republicans will work to create a way for these young immigrants to stay in the United States, as part of an effort to nudge the party toward a conservatism that has more appeal to younger voters and to a diversifying electorate.
But Trump and many Republicans have instead embraced an agenda shaped around emphatic, full blown nativism and xenophobia, bringing that push (such as it was) to a screeching halt. Neatly capturing this, social media is exploding over Trump’s suggestion Wednesday (though the context makes it somewhat vague) that the immigrants he’s deporting are “animals.”
We are now being treated to a striking spectacle: Ryan and his top lieutenants are working overtime to squash an effort by Republicans to force a vote in the House to provide the dreamers with a path to legalization.
Vulnerable Republicans in the House are pushing a discharge petition that would compel a vote on measures that would grant the dreamers legal status, one of them packaged with fortifications to border security. More than 20 Republicans have signed the petition, meaning that if organizers can get a handful more, it would pass, since Dems will support it — forcing a full House vote on whether the dreamers will be protected or remain in limbo.
Why don’t GOP leaders want this vote? Apparently because allowing these young immigrants who were brought here through no fault of their own as children to get right with the law, and work and study in America, would depress the conservative base. The Post reports that GOP leaders are delivering this stark message to the rank and file:
“Signing the discharge petition and paving the way for passage of a moderate immigration bill could hurt Republicans in November’s elections by depressing conservative turnout and upending leadership’s plans to focus on tax cuts and other GOP successes.”
The thinking appears to be that it will turn off the base if Republicans protect the dreamers with the help of Democrats without securing other draconian immigration measures, such as the wall Trump wants.
Driving this appears to be a hard-headed calculation about demographics. Ron Brownstein reports in The Atlantic that House Republicans are basically betting their majority on a “generational” gamble:
“The Republican bet is that the party can mobilize elevated turnout among their older and blue-collar white base without provoking the young and racially diverse voters who personify the emerging next America to show up on Election Day to defend it. Few things are likely to shape November’s outcome more than whether that bet pays off.”
Most indications are that congressional Republicans are genuinely divided on immigration, with many supporting evolution on the issue while many others either don’t want to act or are in sync with Trump’s views. As Brownstein notes, polls show that large majorities of older white voters agree with Trump on most issues, and because Trump is pulling the GOP in a “nativist” direction, this is prioritizing the views of that latter camp.
Of course, the story that recent elections have told is that Trump’s racism and cruel xenophobic agenda have unleashed a massive backlash on the other side of the cultural divide, among young voters, nonwhites, and college educated non-elderly white voters, mostly suburbanites and women, swamping the GOP electorate all over the place. Indeed, it’s telling that vulnerable Republicans want to take action to protect the dreamers, distancing them from Trumpism. Numerous Republicans who signed the discharge petition are in districts that are very much in play.
But Ryan and GOP leaders seem to be betting that if they can keep the aging white Trumpist base energized — while hoping that the anti-Trump backlash subsides just enough among voters on the other side of the divide — they’ll barely hold their majority. So Ryan is in search of the magic solution that will protect the dreamers (giving his vulnerable members some support) while also securing the concessions that Trump wants, so he will sign the bill (preventing Trump voters from staying home).
But here’s the problem: There isn’t any immigration compromise that can pass Congress that Trump would sign. Trump has been adamant that he wants deep cuts to legal immigration and his mighty wall as part of any deal. The immigration proposal Trump wants got the fewest Senate votes of any of the proposals that failed earlier this year. Let’s face it: The president doesn’t want to take in people from “s---hole countries”; he just screamed at his Homeland Security chief for failing to “close down” the border; and, now, he has said at least some of the people he’s deporting are “animals.” Does that sound like a guy who will sign a bill that can pass Congress?
As Brownstein says, the GOP majority will hinge on whether Trump can “succeed in mobilizing high levels of turnout in November from those anxious voters resistant to the changing America,” even as the intensity drops off among the younger, diverse, educated electorate that has driven Dem wins up until now. As the GOP’s dreamer mess shows, Republicans appear locked into that gamble.
• TRUMP IS ‘DISTRACTED’ BY LEGAL ISSUES: North Korea has threatened to scuttle the planned summit in part over adviser John Bolton’s chest thumping, prompting mixed messages in response from the White House. The New York Times reports:
“People close to the White House said the scattershot nature of the messages on North Korea reflected the newness of the president’s national security team, but also the fact that Mr. Trump was distracted by the swirl of legal issues around him, from the Russia investigation to the payments made by his personal lawyer, Michael D. Cohen . . . Some suggested that Mr. Trump needed to rein in [John] Bolton.”
The combination of Bolton and a distracted and easily manipulated Trump does not inspire confidence.