The Mystery of the Shutdown Scenario has seemingly been solved. For a week or so, Dem-sourced commentators (e.g. Ambinder, WaPo‘s Plum Line, the NYT) have been seriously promoting the idea that Republicans would force a government shutdown in response to a pre-election de facto Obama executive amnesty of illegal immigrants–a shutdown that would prove politically toxic to Republicans, given their poll ratings after the last shutdown. The scenario never made much sense: It would not only require Republicans to be suicidally stupid, it would require them to be suicidally stupid after 15 columns from left-leaning pundits telegraphing a Dem strategy of goading them into doing something suicidally stupid. Various key GOPs quickly denied any shutdown plans.
Why would Dems publicize their secret troll plan in such a self-defeating way so far in advance? It now appears the Shutdown Scenario was a desperate late gambit by advocates of pre-November executive action who were losing the internal White House debate. After all, it was never really logical for Obama to amnesty millions of illegals (and give them work permits) before the election — 2014’s key Senate races are mainly in states with low Hispanic populations but lingering job and wage insecurity. An early amnesty might sink Senators Pryor, Shaheen, Landrieu and Hagan, handing Republicans the Senate. Ah, but the plan would work, the early-amnestiers argued, if it goaded Republicans into the shutdown. That’s the ticket! Crazy Ted Cruz and the Tea Party will save us!
Obama’s apparently not buying it. At his “tan” press conference, he seemed in no particular hurry to issue his amnesty decree– a nuance immediately picked up by my alert colleague Neil Munro and subsequently confirmed by the big dailies. WaPo‘s Greg Sargent interviewed “high level Dems” who worry that an amnesty would not only rouse the GOP base but cost Democrats key swing voters –specifically, economically insecure “unmarried women.” This explained why the “high level Dems” didn’t fall for the Shutdown BS Sargent’s own blog had been peddling a few days earlier, in a post from Paul Waldman. (You’d think the Plum Line bloggers could have interviewed “top Dems” a week earlier and avoided the pointless drama. But then you are not a blogger. Pointless drama is our business model.)
“‘Save the Senate First,’ then amnesty millions and win Latinos for 2016” — that seems to be the new, far more rational White House strategy. One flaw, though, might be the assumption that delaying the amnesty will take the immigration issue off the table. Why should it? President Obama and his aides have made quite clear their intent to bypass Congress if necessary and issue an amnesty decree at some point soon — and if the fact of an amnesty before the election will anger voters, won’t the prospect of the same amnesty after the election anger them almost as much? If it’s planned for December, the only way to stop it might be to deliver Obama a sharp electoral rebuke on the issue.
If Republicans want to make the election a Referendum on Immigration, in other words, can Obama stop them merely by dragging his feet? Couldn’t the GOP candidates demand that their Democratic opponents ask Obama to pledge not to issue an executive amnesty in the future? Would that put Senators Shaheen and Pryor, say, on the spot? Even if they asked Obama to make the pledge, it would still be embarrassing if Obama refused, no?