The White House started whispering to reporters over the weekend that the next phase in this fiasco would be to to bypass Pelosi and Schumer and take their case directly to moderate Dems. Various Democrats have told the media recently that they’d be open to some sort of fencing or “barrier” or what have you at the border in the name of forging a compromise. Team Trump wanted to test them on that. Let’s talk to some of those people, said Kellyanne Conway yesterday on Fox News, knowing that freshmen Democrats particularly are worried about starting their careers with a long disruptive stalemate that angers their purplish bases back home.
But asking them to meet separately is tantamount to asking them to take sides with Trump against the new House majority in a standoff which the whole country is watching. Republican voters in their home districts would be briefly grateful if they did that. Democratic voters in their home districts would never forgive them, remembering how they helped send the party down to humiliating defeat in its first real test of wills with POTUS. On his signature issue, no less.
White House officials scrambled to find moderate House Democrats willing to meet with Trump Tuesday morning after the President demanded the meeting from aides.
But Democrat after Democrat turned them down, uninterested in giving Trump a chance to berate them, try to embarrass them or try to get them to split with House Democratic leadership and entertain offers to reopen the government while funding a border wall that are anathema to most of the party.
“Today, the President offered both Democrats and Republicans the chance to meet for lunch at the White House. Unfortunately, no Democrats will attend. The President looks forward to having a working lunch with House Republicans to solve the border crisis and reopen the government,” White House Press Secretary Sarah Sanders said in a statement late Tuesday morning.
Stephanie Murphy and Lou Correa, the co-chairs of the centrist Blue Dog caucus, were Trump’s top targets but neither one will show. I hope and assume that POTUS was prepared for that, that he saw this outreach to moderate Dems as futile but useful PR in showing voters that even so-called “centrists” on the left are too radical to negotiate. If the White House thought Pelosi’s caucus really might side with them and knife her in the back two weeks after they took over the House, then hoo boy. This shutdown will last forever.
Say, how about that new “gang” that was huddling in the Senate last night to try to end the shutdown? Any luck there? Not yet, says Politico: “According to sources familiar with the meeting, Democrats said they could potentially compromise on border security but not until the government is reopened. Republicans agreed, according to two sources in the room — though Trump has rejected such an idea entirely.” Correa also said he’d be willing to talk border security with Trump — but only after the government is reopened. And it was a key to Lindsey Graham’s now-aborted compromise plan as well, re-opening the government so that talks could proceed under less pressure and then using an emergency declaration to fund the wall after a few weeks if no deal was reached.
There seems to be some bipartisan support, in other words, for the idea that the necessary first step here in bargaining on immigration is ending the shutdown by getting the government funded. Question, though: What if Trump agrees to that and then talks go nowhere, as immigration talks always, always do? What options does he have apart from a dubious and risky emergency decree? He has more leverage right now than he’s likely to have again for years. And it ain’t much.
One other major, major problem for Democrats, and not just Democrats, is that making a deal with Trump is a two-step, not a one-step, process. The first step is getting him to agree to a deal. The second step is getting him to stick to a deal after the criticism inevitably begins. Imagine being a moderate Democrat, taking the great chance of pissing off your base by meeting with POTUS on the wall, hammering out some sort of tentative bargain with him, announcing the deal … and then having him declare that he never agreed to any such thing, or that he did agree to it but has since been persuaded by Stephen Miller that only an open-borders cuck would have signed such a sham compromise. Not only would you have enraged the left by bargaining with Trump, you’d have gotten nothing to show for it. Trump changes his mind all the time, never more so than on immigration (his demand for a shutdown seems to have caught McConnell by surprise last month); Senate Republicans are keenly aware of it too, which helps explain why they’ve held back throughout this standoff. They don’t want to risk pissing off the right by embracing a dicey compromise that Trump allegedly supports, only to watch him walk away and leave them holding the bag when the yelling from the base gets too loud.
Anyone inclined to help him find a way out of this, in other words, is forced to keep their distance because they can’t trust him to stick to a deal. He’s on his own, seemingly with no plan for a way out. At least one prominent MAGA fan is getting anxious about it too. F.H. Buckley is not only a pro-Trump regular on the op-ed pages, he helped write some of POTUS’s speeches during the 2016 campaign. It’s time to pack it in on the wall and organize a strategic retreat, says Buckley today in the New York Post. Exit quotation: “It is time for him to stop paying attention to people who tell him not to give in. And if they are in the White House, to fire them. They are like British military advisers who didn’t want to bring the troops home from Dunkirk.”