A Shutdown Over Something

Legalizing Dreamers for border money would be worth the effort.

The country is yawning as Washington wrangles over another possible government shutdown this weekend, and no wonder. The fight is over a difference of merely $3.4 billion in funding for border security. If Donald Trump really wants a political fight worth having, and a chance to retrieve his public standing, he’d go much bigger and offer legalization for the Dreamers in return for his money.

At this late stage such a trade isn’t likely. Republicans who lost in November want to get out of town, and Democrats figure they’ll be in a stronger position in January when they run the House. We are left with one of those shutdown spectacles in which the rhetoric is so bitter because the stakes are so small.

.. Another possibility is to pass a continuing resolution through the new year and delay the fight until the next Congress convenes. The gambit is that the politics will be cleaner for Republicans when they can blame Democrats who will then be running the House. Yet President Trump is even less likely to prevail on border funding next year without making even larger concessions.

All of which is a reminder of Mr. Trump’s immigration lost opportunity. With his restrictionist campaign credentials, he was perfectly positioned to strike a deal that settled at least some of our immigration dilemmas.

He had leverage with Democrats on the Dreamers

.. The GOP “compromise” bill in June had $23 billion for border security, but it lost in a rout when Mr. Trump offered only diffident support. Mr. Trump was given bad advice by White House aide Stephen Miller and cable-TV scolds that immigration would be the GOP’s killer issue in the fall.

It killed Republicans all right. The summer brought the family separation fiasco, and no amount of last-minute campaign hype about the caravan from Central America could save Republicans in the suburbs. As Minnesota Rep. Erik Paulsen told us early last year, an immigration deal would have given him another accomplishment to tout and removed a vote-mobilizer for Democrats. Mr. Paulsen was among the 30 or so House GOP incumbents who lost.

.. Mr. Trump is in far more re-election trouble than he realizes. He has alienated suburban Republicans with the crude way he behaves, and the many legal and political investigations won’t stop until he has left office, if then. He needs to change voter perceptions. A deal on immigration would show he can solve problems that other Presidents couldn’t.

The one way Donald Trump might be like George H.W. Bush

The effect of Bush’s 1992 loss on the current GOP cannot be overestimated. The object lesson for the GOP was that neither preparation nor accomplishment mattered as a metric for political success. The two salient facts for Republicans were:

(1) Bush compromised with Democrats to reduce the budget deficit, thereby reversing his pledge not to raise taxes and alienating the GOP base; and

(2) Bush lost in 1992.

Newt Gingrich supplanted Bush as the GOP standard-bearer. This paved the way for political success and policy disasters.

Donald Trump can do one useful thing for the modern GOP: He can lose in 2020. Trump’s control over his party has already wobbled a bit after the midterms. And as CNN’s Harry Enten noted last week, Trump is laying the groundwork for that kind of ignominious failure:

The difference between Trump’s net economic approval rating and net overall approval rating is astonishingly high when put in a historical context. I looked up every single president’s overall and economic net approval ratings right around each midterm since 1978.

No other president has done this much worse overall than his economic ratings would suggest. On average, their overall net approval rating has actually run 17 points better than their economic net approval rating. Trump is running 27 points worse. The only president to come close to Trump’s negative differential was Bill Clinton in 1998. That was when Clinton was getting impeached….

Trump’s tweets, attacks on the media and improvisational style may be fodder for his base, but they don’t seem to be working on the electorate at-large. A Monmouth University poll earlier this year found that the vast majority of Americans said Trump ran a less conventional administration than normal, and by a 21-point margin, they said that was a bad thing.

If Trump loses in 2020, then maybe the modern GOP would start tacking back toward the style of George H.W. Bush and his aspirations for a kinder, gentler nation.