But Pelosi knows that the alternative to Democratic compromise isn’t necessarily paralysis. It may be Democratic triumph. Trump, like Bush, has picked a fight that is popular with conservatives but unpopular with the public at large. Most Americans don’t think there’s a border crisis, don’t support a border wall, and blame Trump for the shutdown. As a result, Republican members of Congress are under more political pressure to back down than their Democratic counterparts, and the longer the shutdown continues, the more that pressure should grow. For the time being, at least, conservative opposition has forced Trump to shelve talk of declaring a national emergency. All of which means that the most likely outcome to the current standoff is that Trump caves. And since the wall was Trump’s signature campaign promise, such a retreat could depress conservative enthusiasm and impair his chances in 2020. “If he gives in,” Lindsey Graham recently warned, “that’s probably the end of his presidency.”
That’s what Pelosi is aiming for. In pure policy terms, there’s a case for compromise. Arguably, it’s worth wasting a few billion dollars on a border wall to safeguard the “Dreamers” who are stuck in an agonizing legal limbo. But Pelosi is focused on something bigger: the emasculation of the president. For years, Democrats have wondered when their leaders would start playing tough. Turns out Pelosi has been doing so all along.