As a sequel looms to the longest government shutdown in American history, a weary nation wonders: Will the increasingly clannish leaders of our two political parties manage to broker a broad consensus on immigration, vote it through, and bring our politics back from the brink?
President Donald Trump, inflammatory as he is, appears ready to deal — having floated a compromise for his much-ballyhooed wall in exchange for continued amnesty for DACA recipients, or Dreamers, an element many Democrats claimed was a vital priority just months ago.
In contrast, Speaker Nancy PelosiNancy PelosiRepublicans caught in California's recall trap Raise the debt limit while starting to fix the budget 'Justice for J6' organizer calls on demonstrators to respect law enforcement MORE (D-Calif.) seems loath to offer Trump anything close to a broad victory as he approaches his 2020 reelection campaign — even as a tenuous and narrow deal emerges on Capitol Hill to avert another shutdown.
That this imperils the Dreamers is self-evident. That this sets the country back in an era where bipartisanship and simple legislative order are a rarity is also clear. Pelosi seems more focused on a political win — or denying one to her opponent — than the welfare of the country. In that quality, she is certainly not unique among our political class.
Even if Pelosi is willing to accept the compromise, will she be able to corral the roiling Democratic base? Failure could imperil her Speakership. From Oklahoma to South Carolina to Kansas to South Jersey, the Democratic House map is over-extended; the blue-collar workers, independents and formerly-Republican women who just recently flipped so many purple and red districts towards the Democrats thought they were voting for the adults in the room, not immigration extremists.
Democrats who are in no way guaranteed reelection in 2020 now risk overstepping on immigration, as their base lurches leftwards. This includes dozens of candidates who flipped House seats in 2018, who may become one-term wonders if they’re perceived to be too extreme for their constituents. In 10 such districts, polling shows Democrats underwater on immigration. And three-quarters of the people who viewed the State of the Union last month supported what President TrumpDonald TrumpKinzinger says Trump 'winning' because so many Republicans 'have remained silent' Our remote warfare counterterrorism strategy is more risk than reward Far-right rally draws small crowd, large police presence at Capitol MORE said on immigration, according to a CBS News snap poll.
It is a rare moment indeed when a vast majority of those paying attention side with our extraordinarily divisive president. Democrats ought to take note.
Democrats tend to feel invulnerable on social policy due to the almost-uniformly left-wing media establishment that exists to convince the voting public of their moral superiority. How would Sen. Robert Menendez (D-N.J.), whose federal indictment detailed public corruption, be treated if he were a Republican? Despite a deadlocked jury, partial acquittal and dropped charges? How about Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-CortezAlexandria Ocasio-CortezOn The Money — Presented by Wells Fargo — Pelosi plows full speed ahead on jam-packed agenda Photos of the Week: Renewable energy, gymnast testimonies and a Met Gala dress Ocasio-Cortez, Bush push to add expanded unemployment in .5T spending plan MORE (D-N.Y.), whose factless musings and attacks on journalists have elicited timid replies or even support from the same figures who claim Trump is at war with the free press?
But even with an immeasurable assist from this media corps and an army of celebrities, “thought leaders,” and Twitter blue-checkmarks, it is possible for the Democrats to overreach. This was made perfectly stark during the Brett KavanaughBrett Michael KavanaughRepublicans keep distance from 'Justice for J6' rally Senators denounce protest staged outside home of Justice Kavanaugh Why isn't Harris leading the charge against the Texas abortion law? MORE confirmation debates, wherein the Senate Judiciary Democrats’ foregone conclusion that the judge (despite zero corroborating evidence) was a serial rapist, did more to galvanize conservative voters — especially women — before a crucial election than anything else. This cost Democrats more than a handful of Senate seats.
Moderate voters do not believe, as the Ocasio-Cortez wing of the Democratic Party does, that illegal immigrants flooding over the border in caravans are “more American” than the law enforcement agents who seek to prevent them from doing so.
Moderates do not consider our country’s unwillingness to take any and all comers at any point an equivalent to a modern Holocaust.
Moderates want Dreamers protected and are repulsed by Trump’s impulse to separate migrant families. That does not mean they voted for open borders, endless smuggled fentanyl, and a see-no-evil-hear-no-evil approach that zealously denies the efficacy of such millennia-old technologies as a wall.
Unless members of the newly minted Democratic majority proactively create daylight for themselves, moderate and conservative-leaning voters in their districts will get the message only from the loud fringes of the party. That is, that Democratic immigration policy amounts to the following: Any person can come here, at any time, do whatever they want, and stay indefinitely.
For the sake of their political futures, moderate Democrats would do well to distinguish themselves in this crucial moment, whether Speaker Pelosi and the progressive base want them to or not.
Albert Eisenberg is a Philadelphia-based political consultant who works on LGBT and urban issues from the right. He formerly served as communications director for the Philadelphia Republican Party and director of social media for the Young Republicans National Federation. Follow him on Twitter @Albydelphia