Every one of us is to some extent caught in our own Naïve Realism, but it’s hard for me to see how Republicans escape the political box that the President Trump has created for them over the current government shutdown or how Democrats, if they are at all adept, can’t split the common front that Republicans – except for a few foreign policy issues when the President has gone too far – have pretty well maintained throughout the first two years of the Trump term.
If I understand the situation correctly, after Rep. Nancy Pelosi was sworn in yesterday as House Speaker, the House passed bills to reopen the government – absent any funding for Mr. Trump’s border wall — which were essentially the same measures that the Senate had passed in December with what then appeared to be the President’s support. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has indicated that he will not submit the bills to the Senate for a vote, presumably because they would garner sufficient bipartisan support to pass; if presented with such bills, Mr. Trump will be required to either capitulate on his demand for wall funding or veto them – either of which has much more political hazard than advantage for him. Mr. McConnell’s refusal to introduce the bills has thus far engendered criticism from Republican Sens. Susan Collins and Cory Gardner, both up for re-election in 2020 in states Mr. Trump lost in 2016. It doesn’t seem unreasonable to suspect that there may be a number of other Republican Senators that are privately frustrated by Mr. McConnell’s transparently-partisan maneuvering (new Utah Sen. Mitt Romney and North Carolina Sen. Richard Burr — who has performed steadfastly as Chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee during the last two years – perhaps among them).
Although one needs to guard against being swept up in the commentary of hyperventilating liberal talking heads, I heard a comment this morning with which it seems hard to disagree: by failing to submit the bills for a vote, Mr. McConnell is politically protecting the President – at some risk to some members of his own Senate caucus.
The big donors of both parties are awash in money (which I consider one of the great current threats to our system of government – an issue to be held for a serious separate post in the future). We have, for example, seen countless ads over the last couple of years funded by billionaire Democratic donor Tom Steyer, sharply criticizing Mr. Trump and calling for his impeachment. It seems to me that if Democrats are interested in using the shutdown to drive a strategic wedge within the Republican ranks, they should ignore the President – there is probably no human in the developed world that doesn’t already have an irreversible opinion, pro or con, of Mr. Trump — and instead get their well-heeled donors to fund the construction of messaging stressing these points:
That for purely political posturing, Senate Republicans are unwilling to consider the same bills to open the government that they already passed in December.
That Democrats are willing to authorize as much money for border wall funding as Mexico certifies to Congress it has paid to the U.S. for such funding. (I admit: This is too easy.)
That while Senate Majority Leader McConnell refuses to allow the Senate to vote on the same bills to reopen the government and pay federal workers that Senate Republicans passed in December, Mr. McConnell’s spouse (Elaine Chao) serves as the President’s Secretary of Transportation, and Mr. McConnell’s brother-in-law (Gordon Hartogensis) is Mr. Trump’s nominee to serve as the U.S. Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation. (As Finley Peter Dunne’s fictional Mr. Dooley once observed: “… [P]olitics ain’t bean-bag.” Mr. McConnell has seemingly made himself as much of a target for Democrats as the Republicans consider Ms. Pelosi.)
My guess: That kind of messaging, run in all but the deepest of red states represented by Republican Senators, together with the internal heat undoubtedly being generated by those in the Republican Senate caucus feeling endangered – a displeasure perhaps intensified by the realization that Mr. McConnell’s own bid for re-election in Kentucky in 2020 is probably best served by sticking with the President — would create an exquisite squeeze upon Mr. McConnell and ultimately result in significant Republican defections …