When Donald Trump was elected president two years ago the Democratic Party shifted immediately into obstructionist mode. Democrats made no attempt to figure out how to work with him. They dedicated all the energy they had to delegitimizing him, blocking his every action and focusing on 2020. God willing Donald Trump would be a one-term president, and soon we could all pretend like this never happened.
The Republican establishment had much the same reaction. They chose different tactics, but they had the same goal, obstruct Donald Trump and focus on replacing him in 2020. Establishment Republicans hoped, to a man and to a woman, that Trump would make no lasting impact and that we would soon be able to go back to business as usual.
The Democrats have had some limited success in their attacks on President Trump. The Republicans frankly have had considerably greater success in preventing Trump from making any real impact in Washington DC. This is particularly true at the legislative level. Outside of tax reductions, President Trump has been blocked by a Republican majority in both houses from achieving any of his other top priorities. He has been forced to resort to executive action to get anything done to fulfill key campaign promises. Even the repeal of Obamacare was too much for establishment Republicans to support.
For two years the Republicans have slow rolled Donald Trump. In public they have often paid lip service to supporting him as a Republican President. Behind closed doors, where business gets done in Washington, they have done everything they can to prevent him from achieving success, and have done so while remaining largely invisible. It has been a conspiracy to obstruct a sitting Republican President, and like most conspiracies it has been conducted in the shadows, out of the light of day.
All of that is about to change. House Republicans have voted well in excess of $5 billion for funding for a wall on the US Mexico border. The President of the United States has stated that he will shut down the government over the issue if funding is not approved by the Senate. As of the writing of this article in fact the government has at least temporarily shut down.
All eyes are now on Republicans in the US Senate. They cannot hide anymore. If funding is not approved for border security it will be because Senate Republicans who are the majority in that body do not vote to support it.
The Republicans will at least initially attempt to hide behind the Senate rules. They will claim that they are powerless short of a 60 vote majority. This is nonsense. There is nothing in the constitution of the United States which requires a 60 vote majority in the Senate to accomplish anything. A simple majority will do.
It is time for Mitch McConnell and Senate Republicans to stand up and be counted. It is time for them to vote to end debate and take a simple up or down vote on the budget wall funding. It is time to come out of the shadows, stand in the light of day and have the courage to defend their convictions. It is time to stop pretending that Senate Republicans are powerless and that it is Chuck Schumer and the Democrats who are preventing the passage of a budget and the funding of a border wall.
What happens next will be of monumental political significance. Donald Trump is, in many ways, a radical departure from the type of Republican that has dominated the party for a generation. Under successive Republican administrations we have pursued a course of ever greater foreign involvement, ever greater globalization and increasing multilateralism. Trump stands as the spokesman for a populist movement that rejects all of these things and wants to see America’s national interest put front and center.
No issue could better define this priority than the border wall. There is no reason to leave our southern border undefended. Drugs pour across it every day. Poor, undocumented workers who strain our social welfare system and take jobs from the folks on the lowest rung of our socio-economic ladder cross it as well. The situation is a clear threat to our national security. Preserving the status quo harms all of us.
What happens next will be of monumental significance. Either Senate Republicans will finally get behind the sitting Republican President or they will have to admit that they are obstructing him and opposed to his policies. Down one road lies a Republican Party newly united around a very different populist message from that which we have seen for a generation. Down the other path potentially lies a party that breaks in two. The consequences could not be higher. In a very real sense we are seeing the first shots fired in the battle for the White House in 2020 – a battle that has begun within the Republican Party itself.