President Donald Trump and the Republican Congress either had a great Fourth of July week or a terrible one, depending on how you interpret the suite of recent events and how Democrats respond.
Take the resignation of Justice Anthony Kennedy and the chance for Trump to lock in a solidly right-wing Supreme Court for a generation. On its face, this is a huge gain for the right. The chances are slim that Democrats plus two renegade Republican senators will block a far-right nominee who would vote to overturn Roe v. Wade and do a lot of other mischief.
The always unreliable Sen. Susan Collins (Maine) has indicated she might vote no, but Sen. Lisa Murkowski (Alaska) is even cagier, and there is always the leverage of patronage. If the future of the republic hinges on these two mostly bogus Republican moderates, God save America.
Riskier still is the likelihood that Democratic senators up for election in deep-red states will support Trump’s nominee. The likeliest to cave will be Sens. Joe Donnelly (Ind.), Heidi Heitkamp (N.D.) and Joe Manchin (W.Va.). All three voted to confirm Trump’s previous high court nominee, Neil Gorsuch.
The one silver lining is that the confirmation of yet another hard-right justice, coming just weeks before the November midterm elections, will spike Democratic turnout. And turnout is a separate crucial variable on another front: immigration.
Trump’s policy of separating young children from their parents and creating concentration camps for toddlers was grotesque. His government still has no coherent plan for reuniting children with their families. His claim that he fixed a bad policy that he blames on Democrats is fooling nobody outside of his hardcore base. In swing suburban districts, this is an issue that should damage incumbent Republicans and help Democrats.
On the other hand, never underestimate the capacity of the Democrats to snatch defeat out of the jaws of victory. The slogan “Abolish ICE” may reflect both the deep feeling of immigrants and progressive Americans, but outside the progressive bubble it risks handing Trump a weapon that he can exploit by contending that Democrats want open borders.
If you read the details beneath the slogan, political phenomenon Alexandria Ocasio-
So one hopes voters pay sufficient attention to the details. When they do, they favor comprehensive immigration reform, and the public generally opposes Trump’s leadership on immigration by a margin of about 59 to 39.
The immigration issue will boost turnout among Trump’s base. But my wager is that it will increase turnout among progressives, citizen immigrants and swing voters even more.
Trump is also booting other issues that for a time looked to be winners. He gained some cheap headlines for meeting with North Korea’s Kim Jong Un and claiming a breakthrough toward nuclear disarmament of the Korean peninsula.
The tacit understanding seemed to be a choreography of simulated progress between now and November that would make Trump look like a statesman as well as a master dealmaker. But that assumption is now a shambles.
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo made the mistake of actually pressing the North Koreans for some movement toward nuclear disarmament. They responded by accusing the United States of “a unilateral and gangster-like demand for de-nuclearization.”
We are now one step away from mutual name-calling, something Trump finds hard to resist. In any case, it’s clear that the Korea deal was, to use Trump’s favorite term, fake news.
And then there is trade. Here Trump had a strong hand. His public was prepared to back a tougher line, and his advocacy of the interests of American manufacturing was good politics in the American heartland.
But Trump has so screwed up the details of trade diplomacy that his winning hand now looks like a loser. He has managed to unite the whole world against America rather than concentrating an alliance against the world’s most important trade predator, China.
The total costs of a tariff war to an otherwise robust economy are modest ― a point being made by economists who are usually found claiming that free trade will do everything but cure warts ― yet the Chinese are not fools and are superb at targeting their retaliatory tariffs at industries and regions that will do maximum political damage to Trump.
Trump has even managed to make iconic companies like General Motors and Harley Davidson the enemy, and has sown panic among soybean farmers. There is no way this is good politics for him and his base.
And I haven’t even mentioned the continuing drip of the several outstanding investigations. So while the polls may show a slight lift in the broad standing of Trump and the Republican Congress, those numbers bounce up and down. We can remain confident that 2018 is very likely to be a blue wave election.
Robert Kuttner is co-editor of The American Prospect and a professor at Brandeis University’s Heller School. His new book is Can Democracy Survive Global Capitalism? Follow him on Twitter at @rkuttnerwrites.