Waiting for Caesar

But at the same time, the legacy of Obama’s foray into Caesarism offers some reasons to think that our system will limp along without a crisis for a while. That’s because one of the essential preconditions for such a crisis would be a feeling, in an ambitious White House, that going the full Caesar on some disputed issue would make them dramatically more popular. And in our environment of stark polarization, equally balanced parties and presidents who struggle to keep their approval ratings above water once the policymaking starts, it’s hard to chart a course from constitutional aggression to clear political success.

Certainly that was the case with the Obama White House. It wasn’t just that Obama’s more imperial forays on immigration were quickly tied up in the courts. It was that the imperial Obama was a politically unsuccessful Obama, whose party lost the Senate and then the White House during its imperial phase — ushering in a Republican presidency that set about unilaterally reversing much of its predecessor’s unilateralism, from DACA to the Paris and Iran deals.

In the same way but more so given his worse-than-Obama poll numbers, it’s very hard to see how the imperial forays being urged on Trump by immigration restrictionists or supply-siders would make him more popular, or less likely to suffer a repudiation at the polls.