Ding-dong, the witch is dead, the wicked witch, the witch is dead The Wizard of Oz
RIP (Rot In Prison) Kirtjen Nielsen. The Kommisar of Kiddie Kages now finally joins her former boss, General John Kelly, in the “Shit scraped off of the bottom of my shoe” category of the Trump administration yearbook, and like Ebeneezer Scrooge before her, the only ones who will mourn her departure are the chain link fencing salesman.
What brought about this stunning fall from grace? Apparently she dared to defy Der Gropinfuror’s demand that she reinstate the insane child separation policy that he himself had halted by executive order. But Wait for the McGuffin before you start rushing out and giving her credit for having belatedly developed a soul. She didn’t balk at reinstating the policy due to any noble aspirations for human dignity and decency. She opposed the move because with the influx of family units seeking asylum, they simply don’t have the space to house all of the new separated arrivals, and also, she didn’t want her name on a document that will directly defy a standing court order prohibiting the Trump administration from reinstating the policy.And for the mortal sin of using logic and law, she became “Kamikaze Kirstjen.” Don’t let the door hit you on the ass on the way out.
Let’s just take a step back and look at why the policy was toxic enough to force His Lowness to have to back away and look like a spineless wimp to his base. The audio, video, and still images of toddlers being ripped screaming and kicking from their parents arms, and lying on concrete floors wrapped in nothing but tin foil blankets offended everybody with a soul marginally larger than Heinrich Himmler. Unfortunately for Trump, that included a sizable number of GOP Senators, who publicly broke with him over the policy when their constituents started erecting barricades in front of their offices, and receptionists quit rather than field any more phone calls. And just the “report” that Trump is considering reinstating child separation has a GOP stalwart like WI Senator Ron Johnson “concerned,” and Johnson isn’t even up for reelection in 2020 fer Crissakes!
Trump appears to be dead set on reinstating this policy to rev up his base in the run up for 2020, and his designated hitter for Nielsen feels that he has a
reach around work around to the legal issue. Mainly, offer the family nits the option of staying together in detention in concrete floored dog runs for an indeterminate amount of time, or choose to be separated, and spend an indeterminate amount of time in concrete floored dog runs, but at least they can’t see how miserable each other are.Almost certainly, any attempt to reboot the policy would lead to an immediate court injunction pending civil litigation, but Trumpenstein would already have scored his cheap points with his base by trying to stop the flood of immigrants, only to be once again stymied by the courts.
If Trump insists on moving forward with this policy, it is going to place McConnell, and his Senate caucus in an untenable position, for two reasons. First, there were only 8 GOP Senators up for reelection in 2018, and they could safely insulate themselves from the issue by shyly backing away from Trump on the issue. That will not be possible in 2020, with Trump topping the ticket, they are going to be tethered to him and his policies with a choker chain. And in 2018, there were two border states with GOP Senators up for reelection. In Arizona, Kyrsten Sinema ousted GOP AZ Rep Martha McSally for Jeff Flake’s open Senate seat in a state that Trump narrowly won in 2020. In Texas, Beto O’Rourke scared the shit sufficiently out of Ted Cruz that he even agreed to appear onstage with the man who insinuated that his own father helped to pull the trigger on JFK. In 2020, McSally has to defend her “gimme” seat, replacing McCain as a caretaker, and John Cornyn has to defend his seat in boder battleground Texas, against a revitalized Democratic party, potentially against a formidable Joaquin Castro, and possibly facing a bunch of pissed off border landowners screaming about losing their land to eminent domain.
The second reason is that this issue just plain fucking sucks for Republicans. By the time Trump stopped the carnage in 2018, the images were fresh, the issue hot, and suburban soccer moms rebelled at the thought of separating children from their parents. Since November of 2018, the issue had largely disappeared from the political scene, and as long as the GOP let it lie fallow, there was no real reason for it to be a compelling issue in 2020. But by resuscitating this dead horse, this is giving new life to this issue as a potential cudgel for Democrats to use against their opponents in 2020, by passing legislation to protect that would force McConnell to look like an ogre for squashing it in the Senate, or force GOP Senators to take a stand one way or the other.
This is purely transactional behavior for Trump, energizing a truly disastrous issue for the GOP for short term selfish gain, but it places his entire legislative caucus, especially the Senate in a lose-lose scenario. Pushing it at any time would be bad enough, but by trotting it out for another spin around the track before the primaries, he screws his incumbents either way. If they back him, they tar themselves with that brush, and the Democrats will throw feathers at them for the next 18 months. And if they break with Trump, no matter how gently over the issue, they damn near guarantee a challenge from the right in a primary. And the only way to fend off a Trumpista primary challenger is to veer so far to the right that they become almost inherently unelectable in the general election.
I have little to no doubt that Trump is going to try to restart this program, there would be no reason to jettison a convenient chew toy like Nielsen otherwise. It is going to be interesting to see how GOP incumbents handle the fallout. Susan Collins of Maine, and Lisa Murkowski of Alaska both broke with Trump on this issue in 2018, and both are up for reelection in 2020, with Collins facing an uncertain future. Cornyn and McSally are going to find this to be a much more potentially lethal issue than in some states where border issues don’t touch as heavily. And McConnell himself is facing reelection in Kentucky, with popularity polling numbers that make most politicians consider taking up Scrabble full time. It only takes 4 seats to flip the Senate, and this headwind breeze could turn into a category 45 hurricane in 2020 if the GOP doesn’t watch its step. Don’t touch that dial.
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