Triangulation Beats Coalition Maintenance, Part XVIII: Major Garrett produces an excellent account** of Obama’s meeting with immigration activists last Monday, before the president announced he’d take “aggressive” executive actions to “fix as much of our immigration system as we can” without going through Congress. Highlights:
1) Obama’s revealingly thin-skinned. La Raza’s Janet Murguia had called him “Deporter-in-Chief,” so La Raza didn’t get invited. Oddly, Obama’s super-sensitivity here seems of a piece with the “coalition of the left” approach that has crippled his presidency. In his preferred mode of operation, Obama seeks to maximize his influence by working together with his natural allies. He won’t do anything that really annoys them, and he expects them not to really annoy him (by, say, ripping him in public). Solidarity! That worked until approximately 5 P.M. on February 4, 2010, when Obama lost his filibuster-proof majority in the Senate. The alternative approach: Triangulation, as practiced by Bill Clinton. Attack both left and right — and then you don’t have to get offended when the left attacks back. That’s what you want! If Obama is having trouble passing an amnesty bill because he lacks credibility as an immigration enforcer, he should relish being called “Deporter-in-Chief,” and make sure La Raza repeats it loudly on national TV.
2) “Obama was pissed” at Republicans for failing to pass the Senate’s immigrant legalization bill. He “didn’t seem to give a shit,” about the political downside of an “aggressive” end run around the nation’s elected legislature, according to activist Frank Sharry. “It was clear he was going on offense.” What about the constitutional downsides? Illinois Senator Durbin says Obama will merely “borrow the power that is needed to solve the problems of immigration.” I’ll have to check my copy of Article II, but I suppose if you combine the Borrowing Clause with the Pissed Off Clause you can really achieve some expansive executive power.
3) Boehner “informed [Obama] that he believed there was a good chance a comprehensive bill could pass in the next Congress” –and urged Obama not to poison the waters with further executive actions. I still think this factor will come to weigh heavily on the President, at least as long as his party retains control of the Senate. Frank Sharry may be disappointed by what Obama does before November.
4) Executive action on immigration won’t help Democrats much in 2014. That’s another factor weighing against a sweeping act of presidential lawmaking. “Within the White House, the sense is that Obama’s coming moves on immigration will not help anywhere but Colorado and possibly Virginia” — and there’s the possibility of backlash “against Senate Democrats in red states like Louisiana, Arkansas, Alaska, North Carolina, and Georgia.”
5) Dems think it will help in 2016, though: Garrett writes
The 2016 calculus is completely different. Inside and outside the White House, the consensus is that GOP inaction on immigration reform will define the campaign and any attempts to draft legislation in the next Congress—with or without a GOP majority in the Senate and the House—will complicate political prospects for Republicans … [E.A.]
Does “the consensus” really think Democrats will be running national ads (as opposed to ads targeted at Latinos or Asians) hitting Republicans on immigration — as opposed to jobs, or the “war on women,” or the middle-class “squeeze”? Will Boehner’s failure to pass the Gang of 8 bill “define” the race while issues like Obamacare and the screwing up of Iraq fall by the wayside? The consensus is kidding itself.
6) Obama isn’t for open borders. He told activists about the need to “signal … intent to enforce the law through deportations” in order stop the surge of illegals at the Southern border. When the activists objected, arguing the surge was unstoppable, he bristled:
“Then anyone can come in, and it means that, effectively, we don’t have any kind of system,” Obama said. “We are a nation with borders that must be enforced.”
Hmm. Are those the seeds of incipient triangulation? Or do Obama and the activists jointly realize that (as Chuck Todd suggests) he must make temporary tough-sounding noises about the border crisis if he’s going to buy the credibility to give them the sweeping executive amnesties they want? (Even so, I’m not sure a two-stage, pushmi-pullyu strategy works. Obama can’t entirely be tough at the border but soft in the middle of the country, because the softness in the middle (Step 2) typically undermines the toughness in Step One. For example, executive amnesties in the interior will make it easier for those now streaming across the Southern border to stay– if, say, they skip any deportation hearings, as most do, or manage to avoid the border patrol entirely.)
** — How did he get Frank Sharry to talk? That guy is usually like a vault!