Republicans are Selling Their Future on the Whim of a Tyrant

It is fast becoming conventional wisdom that the institutional Republican response to their demographic crisis will be to preserve their hold on the Senate and the courts. As the fastest growing segments of the population trend not just liberal but stridently progressive, and the most conservative parts of the country belong to the fastest dwindling ethnic and cultural identities, it will be increasingly difficult for Republicans to win the presidency even with the help of the electoral college. It will also be hard to hold onto the House of Representatives even with the help of gerrymandering, and well-nigh impossible if legislative or judicial reforms combine with new census allocations to blunt conservative structural advantages.

The Senate is another matter. It’s unlikely that the borders of states will change, or that the Constitution will be altered to fix the travesty of justice that gives Wyoming the same representation as California in the upper chamber. Democrats may perhaps give statehood and Senate representation to Puerto Rico and Washington, DC, but even this step will be unlikely to overcome the 60-vote threshold needed to prevent Republican filibusters.

So it is in the interest of Republicans in the long term to maximize the power of the Senate over all other federal institutions (at least pending some far-off political realignment that would allow Republicans to regain a credible path to majoritarian legitimacy.)

Which makes it all the more remarkable that Republicans in the Senate and across the conservative movement are willing to sell their proverbial birthright for the mess of pottage that is Donald Trump. In doing so, the GOP is trampling on Senate prerogatives to give power to a White House that will likely be controlled primarily by Democrats over the next few decades.

First, the Senate is standing pat as Trump allows “acting” members of his cabinet to govern for long periods without nodding to the Senate’s power to advise and consent. What began as a slow trickle of “acting” cabinet members has become a flood, one that Trump is now openly celebrating because it gives him imperial flexibility.

“Well, I’m in no hurry,” Trump told reporters outside the White House before departing for Camp David. “I have ‘acting.’ And my actings are doing really great.”

He praised acting interior secretary David Bernhardt and acting White House chief of staff Mick Mulvaney, saying they are “doing great” in their temporary roles.

“I sort of like ‘acting,’ ” Trump said. “It gives me more flexibility; do you understand that? I like ‘acting.’ ”

Even more ominously, Trump is threatening to bypass Congress’ power of the purse in the government shutdown negotiations by declaring a national state of emergency to get his border wall funding.

Donald Trump edged closer toward a radical move to fund his border wall after the prospect of a deal with the Democrats to re-open government dimmed and the president’s political leverage appeared to dissipate.

Trump on Sunday renewed his threat to bypass negotiations with Democratic lawmakers and instead declare a national emergency on the southern border with Mexico. While the possible move was revealed just days ago, White House lawyers and key budget staff have been looking into it for weeks, a person familiar with the matter said on condition of anonymity.

The courts would almost certainly stop Trump from actually getting away with this move, but the precedent the attempt alone would establish is not only dangerous to the American system’s delicate balance of powers, it would severely undermine the ability of a future Republican Senate minority to blockade the most progressive priorities of a future President Harris, Warren, Sanders or Ocasio-Cortez.

Is obeisance to Donald Trump worth that much to Republicans? Is a border wall such a prize that it is worth the cost?

The more one watches Republican politicians, the more obvious it is that they don’t really have a plan. They are riding helplessly on the tail of a fire-breathing dragon piloted by Fox News and Rush Limbaugh, desperately clinging onto the dittohead scales and hoping they don’t fall into oblivion. But with every shortsighted decision designed to buy themselves another moment’s respite from the flames and the sharp cut of the scales, the more perilous their position becomes.

David Atkins

David Atkins is a writer, activist and research professional living in Santa Barbara. He is a contributor to the Washington Monthly's Political Animal and president of The Pollux Group, a qualitative research firm.