In order to accomplish these objectives, Republicans will not try to block or cripple these proposals, but will only critique and challenge them if necessary. For example, they will not try to stop policy proposals like the border wall or impose a gag rule on journalists or punish scientific experts.
Instead, the GOP will only speak up when Democrats ignore their policy preferences or try to make unreasonable concessions. For example, the party will not attempt to impede the efforts of Democrats to fight violent extremism, even though its strongest supporters on the right seem incapable of distinguishing radical Islamists from fellow Muslims. It will support a bump stock ban — a crucial measure to prevent mass shootings like the one that recently took place in the City of Alexandria, Virginia — provided that there is no language mandating a serial number or other label noting how many shots were fired.
While Trump has staked a lot of political capital on the success of these proposals, Congressional Republicans are frustrated with his propensity to obfuscate and mislead, and his efforts to score cheap political points over legislative efforts. The meeting of Republican leaders this past Tuesday addressed the immense amount of time and effort that has gone into crafting this platform and the limitations the party has put on itself and Trump, because the president “did not ask for a platform,” a source close to the Senate leadership told me.
All in all, the source argues, “The cover it gives our guys to criticize the president’s immigration proposal is huge, which in turn gives the party cover to criticize Trump on other issues.”
But this strategy has many problems. The decisions to ignore or object to policy proposals from Democrats is bound to fail. First, Trump’s preoccupation with bluster makes it hard for his team to provide context. Polling this year indicates that American voters are overwhelmingly supportive of the proposals put forward by Democrats, such as boosting economic growth, universal health care, climate change policies, and protecting the environment. An MSNBC poll found that 96 percent of Democrats and Republicans believe the United States should commit to keeping global warming from destroying the planet.
“He’s got to be careful about what he wants to do; he wants to show force, which will make it harder for him to be the president of all the people,” Professor John Simpson of George Mason University’s Mercatus Center said to The Atlantic last week. “The Democrats have better ideas, and they’re going to make him fight them.”
Second, this raises the specter of a Trump-supported policy not getting enacted. The president’s team clearly cares about serving its president, but they also love to inject schadenfreude into things. The administration is working to push through emergency funding for the border wall, but Trump now realizes that even if the money is appropriated, it won’t be able to force Mexico to foot the bill. Furthermore, Trump has been very insistent that Republicans can have their cake and eat it too on the status of the country’s Dreamers. Republicans have been hammering the Democrats for being ineffective when it comes to tackling immigration policy, but by criticizing legislative proposals, they are signaling to the president that he can’t get everything he wants.
Republicans know that winning over more voters will require an agenda that appeals to a range of Americans, not just Republicans. Candidates like Ohio Senate candidate Troy Balderson, who has the backing of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the pro-business group organized to push for Republican majorities, are clearly aware of this. This platform does nothing to assuage Trump’s base. Meanwhile, moderate Republican incumbents like Sen. Susan Collins, a moderate from Maine, are not thrilled to be the subject of conservative attacks.
Finally, the procedural restrictions on the GOP also suggest it may have political problems. Senate Republicans are only allowed to filibuster 40 proposals for each of the 120 votes they need to advance legislation; the GOP wants to be able to filibuster even more measures. If Republicans want to win support for these measures, they’ll need to make them fairly transparent and reasonably simple. Trump did a good job presenting a unified stance at his rally in Ohio, but Republicans only have themselves to blame for their lack of enthusiasm.
Trump is fully capable of convincing the GOP to give him what he wants on a number of policy fronts, but the Republicans must be prepared to settle for less and take risk to get what they want.
Ryan Devereaux is a fellow at the Brookings Institution’s Immigration Policy Center, where he researches how immigration interacts with the economy and public policy. His work focuses on the economic and institutional features of modern immigration and labor markets.