Over at Politico Magazine, Bill Scher writes with sadistic glee about how President Obama is intentionally “trolling” conservatives with his immigration order.
“[W]e could be witnessing the deployment of a strategy in which the president does indeed play with matches, quite deliberately,” Scher says, “and he’s about to throw one right into the tinderbox of the House GOP caucus.”
“Fortunately for Obama,” Scher continues, “bringing out the worst in Republicans serves both his political and his policy purposes. ”
I don’t know if this ploy will work out for Obama, but I think Scher is right about his motives. This is nothing new. My sense is that Obama’s strategy has long entailed provocative moves intended to set a trap for his enemies by inciting an overreaction from the base. (But don’t take my word for it — take my liberal friend Bill Scher’s.)
In the case of his immigration reform order, this has serious consequences. By weighing in forcefully — and, much more importantly, by doing so with a heavy (possibly unconstitutional) hand — Obama poisoned the bipartisan well on immigration reform, knowing that this overreach would lead Republicans reflexively sprinting to the extreme opposite position.
This is probably the surest way to guarantee that conservatives (such as yours truly) who are in principle open to immigration reform cannot win the internecine struggle within the GOP. And the dirty truth is that suits Obama’s goals, just fine. He has no interest in a muddying of this issue. No, the liberal cause benefits from their being a stark distinction between the pro-immigrant forces on the left, and the philistine nativists on the right.
But this is not leadership. This is the work of a divider — not a uniter. This doesn’t build consensus, it rips it apart. This is not change we can believe in. And that’s my point. President Obama sold himself as someone who would transcend politics and eschew the partisan games, but what is this if not a masterful display of partisan gamesmanship?
So liberals win, but who loses? Conservative reformers who were open to bipartisan immigration reform legislation (but also believe in the rule of law and separation of powers) get thrown under the bus. And how about immigrants? Would their cause not be better by virtue of bipartisan legislation? Would their leverage not be stronger were they to split their loyalties between the two major parties, instead of becoming (as Obama hopes) a wholly owned subsidiary of the Democratic Party? I submit to you that this is the worst, most cynical form of politics. But, sadly, it usually works.