Fueled by a personal chilliness with Republican congressional leaders and a desperate desire to cut any kind of deal, Trump has thrown out the conventional political playbook less than a year into his presidency. With Trump, it’s often hard to tell the difference between his undisciplined, impulsive decision-making and a genuine strategic pivot. But this week marks a real divide between unsuccessfully trying to work with Republicans while pandering to the base elements within the party and trying to awkwardly triangulate with his Democratic opponents, who need to show they’re not simply part of the #resistance.
If executed competently—always a big if with this White House—Trump’s move threatens to dampen Republican prospects in the upcoming midterms, while boosting his personal standing in the run-up to 2020. If Republicans cave on immigration, they’ll have absolutely nothing to show the populist base. And without legislative accomplishments on health care and tax reform (the next Hail Mary legislative push for Republicans), there’s nothing for more traditional conservatives to celebrate. Democratic turnout is already at very high levels in off-year elections across the country. If Republicans can’t excite their own voters or remain hopelessly divided next year, they’ll suffer widespread losses in 2018.