Thursday, October 19, 2017

New Book: Red Fighting Blue

I'm very happy to announce that my new book, Red Fighting Blue: How Geography and Electoral Rules Polarize American Politics, has just been published by Cambridge University Press in paperback, hardcover, and eBook formats.

The book explains how the emergence of significant and persistent regional differences in partisan voting patterns in both presidential and congressional elections since the 1990s has had a profound effect on party politics in the United States. The American electoral system, with its geographically-defined voting constituencies and winner-take-all rules, has greatly magnified these differences when translating the preferences of citizens into electoral college outcomes and the partisan and ideological composition of Congress. The moderate Democrats formerly elected in large numbers from what are now the "red" states and the moderate Republicans who once represented the "blue" states are both disappearing from office, leaving increasingly polarized parties and an ever-shrinking scope of electoral competition. In an age in which the two major parties are closely balanced but each increasingly dominant across large regional subsections of the nation, the specific ways in which the geographic distribution of party support interacts with the rules of the American electoral process accounts for how our politics works—or doesn't work—in the 21st century.


Thursday, October 12, 2017

Why Do People Think Tax Reform Will Swing the 2018 Election?

Last week, I described why we should be skeptical of the view that the outcome of the 2018 midterm elections will be substantially affected by whether or not Republicans succeed in enacting tax reform. But my previous post did not explain why such a belief can become widely accepted in Washington despite the lack of hard evidence behind it.

The extent of this acceptance is illustrated by a Wednesday article in the New York Times stating in its second paragraph that "one political and legislative reality is suddenly becoming crystal clear: Republicans must deliver a tax cut or face an epic backlash that would pose a significant threat to their governing majority and long-term political health." The article presents this claim not merely as one plausible account of the electoral stakes of reform but as a "crystal clear" political "reality" beyond legitimate analytical contestation.

The author of the article, a veteran Capitol Hill reporter, is no doubt accurately portraying the prevailing sentiment among Republican members of Congress—and perhaps among Democrats as well. Republicans really do feel desperate to rack up a major legislative accomplishment. Most of them are ideologically committed to tax cuts as a worthy substantive goal, and it's very easy for them to convince themselves that good policy is also good politics. The assertion that failure to enact tax reform will lead to electoral doom in 2018 is also a powerful argument with which to convince fellow partisans to unite around legislation. Everybody had better get with the program, Republican leaders are no doubt telling their membership, or we'll all feel the pain.

Conservative interest groups are sounding the same message. The Times article includes a quote from Scott Reed, a former Republican campaign professional who now works for the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, that characterizes success on tax reform as politically "vital" for the Republican Party. Reed's remarks are somewhat amusingly framed as a kind of objective analysis, though they are in fact an act of political advocacy: the Chamber wants tax reform to pass and, toward that end, is naturally promoting the idea all around Washington that the GOP has no choice but to deliver if it wants to stay in power.

But journalists and other analysts do not always concur with the strategic judgment of politicians or accept the self-serving spin of interest groups. Why is the view that tax reform represents a "must-pass" proposition for congressional Republicans so convincing to outside observers?

One answer is that media coverage perennially and systematically overstates the extent to which electoral results reflect the calculated behavior of politicians. This is partially because candidate actions are by far the most visible component of campaign dynamics, and partially because journalists are embedded in the same social environment as politicians and campaign consultants, who also habitually overstate their own influence. Within this world, electoral outcomes are typically interpreted as primarily reflecting the traits of particular candidates or the "messages" with which they court voters. It can be hard to accept that elections are mostly decided on the basis of factors—such as the state of the economy or the job approval rating of the president—that are mostly out of the control of congressional incumbents and their advisors.

But there's something else at work as well. Human nature encourages us to perceive the existence of a kind of cosmic justice in which good deeds are rewarded and bad deeds are punished. If a "good" congressional party is focused, harmonious, and legislatively prolific, and a "bad" party is fractious, undisciplined, and unproductive, it's only natural to believe in a world in which a partisan majority that delivers on its policy goals and commitments goes on to reap electoral benefits from a grateful public while one that fails to do so faces the righteous wrath of a betrayed citizenry.

Trouble is, history gives us no particular reason to believe that this is how the world of politics actually works. The current state of the Republican Party is itself a testament to the lack of reliable correlation between popular success and leadership ability; the GOP is in its strongest electoral position since the 1920s but is arguably less equipped to govern, at least at the federal level, than at any point in living memory. Likewise, the Democrats of the late 1930s and 1940s were very good at winning national elections and not very good at uniting behind a common policy agenda.

If there is an actual iron law of politics, it's that few benefits are unaccompanied by corresponding costs and that trade-offs and paradoxes abound. (Hence the seemingly oxymoronic title of this blog.)

Sometimes Congress does little and voters reelect its members anyway; sometimes it does a lot and voters respond by rebelling. Democrats produced a series of major legislative initiatives in 2009–2010 and were "rewarded" with the enduring loss of their congressional majority. Republicans adeptly harnessed popular resentment against Barack Obama to win control of the House of Representatives in 2010 and the Senate in 2014, but that same resentment led to the rise of a troublesome Tea Party movement and the installation of an unusually unpopular and ineffective president as party leader. And it is that president, not their own legislative record (or lack thereof), that represents the biggest impediment to Republican electoral success in 2018.

Friday, October 06, 2017

Can Tax Reform Really Save the Republican Regulars in 2018?

A series of recent news articles over the past few weeks describes sinking morale within the ranks of Republican congressional leaders and their allies. The failure of the Graham-Cassidy health care reform bill in the Senate, combined with the victory of Roy Moore in the Alabama Republican Senate primary, has increased the sense on Capitol Hill that an angry bloc of Republican voters is ready to punish party incumbents for failing to implement the ambitious conservative legislative agenda that Paul Ryan and Mitch McConnell promised last winter.

Normally, the congressional leaders of a president's party could at least expect the White House to come to its defense. But we are not in normal times. President Trump, of course, has repeatedly and angrily expressed his frustration with the congressional GOP in general and McConnell in particular. His erstwhile political strategist Steve Bannon, freshly exiled from the West Wing, is now apparently dedicating himself to the recruitment of challengers to "establishment" Republicans in next year's House and Senate primaries. Vice President Mike Pence is usually considered a loyal party man—at least in comparison—but his own chief of staff was secretly recorded this week encouraging high-dollar donors to rebel against insufficiently pro-Trump Republicans by withholding financial support and even actively backing intra-party challengers.

Amidst this increasingly menacing haze, Republican regulars are now fixing their eyes on tax reform as a potential escape hatch. The repeated defeat of health care legislation has only raised the perceived stakes for the passage of a major tax initiative. "Republican leaders are making no attempt to mask their fear," reported the New York Times on Thursday, "predicting that failure to pass a tax overhaul in the coming months will lead to a wipeout in next year's midterm elections." The argument is simple enough: if tax reform falls apart the way health care reform did, incumbent Republicans will have no major accomplishments to tout, and disgruntled conservatives will respond in 2018 by supporting insurgent challengers in Republican primaries and/or by declining to vote in the November general election.

But accepting this logic requires viewing tax reform as itself a sufficiently valuable prize in the eyes of Republican-leaning citizens that its passage alone is likely to represent the difference between loyalty to the current stock of party incumbents and widespread disaffection or rebellion. There are at least two reasons to be skeptical of this assumption.

First, it's not at all clear that active Republican voters in the Trump era are as energized by the potential enactment of tax reform as they are by the prospect of repealing Obamacare, building the border wall, and achieving other currently-stalled party priorities. Will the simmering anger that many Republicans have expressed toward their own party's congressional leadership for the past decade really be extinguished by the passage of a single bill on a subject that has hardly dominated popular conservative debate in recent years?

Second, the actual plan that is emerging from negotiations between congressional leaders and the White House focuses largely on reducing the tax burden of businesses and very wealthy individuals; millions of middle-class and upper-middle-class citizens would receive a minimal reduction or even a net increase in their tax liabilities. Proponents argue that the plan would produce additional economic growth that would in turn ultimately boost wages and employment rates for the non-rich; even if those predictions come true in the medium-to-long term, however, it is unrealistic to expect perceptible economic payoffs to arrive in the months between the signing of the bill and the November election. Whatever the merits of the Republican plan might be, it's simply not a measure designed to provide immediate benefits to the average voter.

A somewhat stronger case for the electoral advantages of tax reform emphasizes three indirect ways in which passage could aid the Republican cause in 2018. For one thing, reform is a popular goal among the party's most generous financial donors—many of whom are apparently withholding their usual contributions at the moment as a form of protest against Congress's lack of productivity so far. If tax reform reopens some roomy wallets that are currently closed, it could help Republican incumbents compete financially against upstart primary challengers and opposition Democrats alike.

In addition, observable progress on major tax legislation over the next few months might help convince a few wavering incumbent Republicans to seek another term in 2018, while a lack of legislative success might similarly encourage those members to consider retirement—leaving behind open seats in Congress that would be vulnerable to capture in the next election by anti-leadership Republicans or Democrats.

A final way in which passage of tax reform might help congressional Republicans politically is that it might get Trump off their backs a bit—or, at least, leave him somewhat less disagreeable than he would be if reform were to fail. The worst-case scenario for Republican House and Senate leaders is an out-and-out civil war with a president who, weakened though he may be in a more general sense, clearly holds most of the power within his own party. Giving Trump a bill to sign hardly guarantees that he will be a loyal asset to fellow Republicans in 2018, but failing to deliver one virtually ensures that he will be a vocal critic of his own party's congressional membership.

All three of these indirect consequences of tax reform could well exert a limited degree of influence over Republican electoral fortunes, but it's hard to see how their combined impact would be significant enough to represent the difference between a good and a bad 2018 midterm for the party. Other external factors such as Trump's job approval rating, the success of Democratic candidate recruitment efforts, the drawing of House district lines, and the staggered terms of the Senate are poised to be much more powerful determinants of next year's outcomes, while the long-term trend of increasingly successful right-wing revolts against "establishment" Republicans is likely to continue whether or not McConnell and Ryan can muster sufficient support for a single piece of legislation.

Republican incumbents are understandably nervous about their prospects in 2018, but that doesn't make tax reform a "make-or-break" proposition for party regulars. We should therefore be wary of analysis that frames tax reform efforts primarily through an electoral lens rather than emphasizing its much more consequential substantive effects and implications for congressional governance and policy-making. If Republican regulars are indeed fatally vulnerable next year in primaries or general elections, passing tax reform will not save them; if they still maintain a clear path to victory, it will likewise not be foreclosed even if legislative success eludes them.

Tuesday, September 26, 2017

Alabama Special Election Recap: A Bad Day for Republican Governance

Donald Trump interrupted his Friday campaign speech on behalf of Alabama senator Luther Strange to engage in a digression about the decline of football in general and the protests of Colin Kaepernick in particular, following up with a barrage of tweets on the subject over the following days that also rescinded a White House invitation to the NBA champion Golden State Warriors. As with many such developments, the initial news media response (to briefly paraphrase: "?!?!?!?") soon evolved into a discussion of whether or not Trump's attacks amounted to smart politics. Some observers judged the president's actions a mistake, while others argued that Trump's behavior reflected an effective strategy of harnessing racial tension and opposition to social change within the American public. "This kind of thing," wrote Rich Lowry of National Review, "is why he's president."

Because much of our punditry views politics primarily through an electoral frame, "smart politics" is generally defined as an action that helps one party win popular support at the expense of the other. It's quite possible that a majority of the voting population sides with Trump on the Kaepernick issue, especially if Trump's preferred interpretation of the protests—that players who demonstrate during the pregame national anthem performance are "disrespecting" the flag, the troops, and the nation—wins broad acceptance.

But politics is about more than winning elections, and the Republican Party's current problems have little to do with the party's relative strength compared to the Democrats. Today brought three significant developments in the world of Republican politics, all carrying relatively minimal implications for electoral competition between the parties—but with much more serious (negative) consequences for the GOP's deteriorating capacity to govern.

The first development was the Senate Republican conference's public acknowledgement that the Graham-Cassidy health care reform bill lacks sufficient support to win a vote on the floor. From a purely electoral calculation, congressional Republicans are probably better off abandoning their "repeal and replace" efforts than enacting a law that would result in millions of Americans losing health insurance coverage beginning in the 2018 election year. But the inability to pass legislation through Congress addressing the party's top domestic priority is not only a source of embarrassment for Republican leaders and exasperation for Republican activists, but also represents a significant sunk cost of time and energy over the past nine months that could have been devoted instead to taxes, infrastructure, or other more promising matters.

The second big news item of the day was Senator Bob Corker's announcement that he would not seek a third term in 2018. Corker's retirement does little to change the electoral math—Tennessee is decidedly inhospitable territory for Democratic candidates even without a popular incumbent on the ballot—but removes a capable, pragmatic, leadership-friendly senator from a Republican conference in need of legislative heft.

Third, former state supreme court justice Roy Moore easily defeated Strange, the appointed incumbent, in the Alabama Republican Senate primary. Thanks to Alabama's deep red partisan alignment, Moore is unlikely to jeopardize the Republican Party's hold on the seat in the December general election. But his future arrival in the Senate will create its own set of difficulties for the GOP. Moore ran as an open opponent of Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell, and his propensity for attention-getting stunts and remarks is likely to put his fellow Republican senators in an awkward position on a regular basis. Moore's demonstrated level of policy command also suggests that he will not turn out to be a legislative workhorse in Washington.

Moore's triumph over Strange will also further damage the already-faltering relationship between Trump and McConnell. Trump will be predictably furious at Strange's defeat after he endorsed, and campaigned for, the senator in part at McConnell's urging, and will seek to shift blame for this embarrassment onto a Senate leader whom he already holds responsible for failing to repeal the Affordable Care Act. An intensifying civil war within the Republican Party between its two most powerful leaders, or between "insider" and "outsider" factions of conservatives, bodes ill for the chances of productive, functional governance over the next 16 months.

Perhaps a public appeal increasingly centered on themes of cultural and nationalist nostalgia simultaneously helps a party win elections and renders it inherently ill-equipped for the process of governing. At the least, the results tonight confirm that the potency of popular rebellion from the right remains alive and well within the Republican Party in the post-2016 era. As I remarked to Jeff Stein of Vox, "You might have thought that a Trump presidency and having Republicans control Congress would relieve that pressure valve—that with Hillary and Obama off the scene, some of that anti-establishment, anti-Republican leadership sentiment would dissipate. What we're seeing in Alabama is that that's not the case." The next question is to what extent Trump, the leader of the Republican Party, throws his own lot in with the rebels.

Friday, September 22, 2017

Graham-Cassidy Shows That Politics Is About Ideas As Well As Interests

Critics on the left often roll their eyes when conservatives proclaim a principled commitment to the timeless virtues of limited government and cultural traditionalism. To detractors, conservative rhetoric about values is merely a rationalization of, or mere window-dressing for, the right's actual motivation: the defense of existing social inequalities in the domains of economics, race, gender, sexual orientation, and so forth. Conservatives like to portray themselves as committed to a philosophical cause, according to this view, but they really just care about enacting policies that provide their supporters with financial or social advantage at the expense of everybody else.

As Matt Grossmann and I were writing our book arguing that the Republican Party is fundamentally an ideological movement while the Democrats are distinctively a social group coalition, some of our colleagues accused us of taking conservative ideology too seriously as representing something more than a publicly palatable justification of Republican-aligned groups' own collective self-interest. One attendee at the Midwest Political Science Association's annual conference responded to my presentation of some of our early work by complaining that we didn't understand that Republicans simply do whatever their corporate sponsors tell them to do. (She continued to rant about how ridiculous she thought the paper was in the hallway after the panel was over, personally delivering the kind of "spirited feedback" that we academics more commonly experience through the anonymous peer review process.)

It's surely true that citizens' relative degree of receptiveness to the tenets of small-government conservatism is strongly influenced by the extent to which they perceive a personal benefit from the enactment of conservative policies. But a conception of ideology as simply interests-in-disguise can't account for important elements of Republican Party politics, as demonstrated by the party's ongoing attempts to enact health care reform—the latest of which, the Graham-Cassidy bill, appears to narrowly lack sufficient support in the Senate now that John McCain has announced his intention to vote against it.

The Graham-Cassidy plan is opposed by the American Medical Association, by hospitals, and by patient advocacy groups. Despite the common assumption on the left that Republicans reliably carry water for the insurance industry on health care policy (a charge repeated by Jimmy Kimmel during one of his critical late-night monologues this week), major insurers are also strongly opposed. Though the bill was sold as a boon for state-level policymaking "flexibility," several Republican governors and the national association of state Medicaid officers do not support it. In fact, it's very difficult to identify any definable interest group or segment of the electorate whose material interests would benefit from the passage of Graham-Cassidy—even the wealthy, who gained a substantial tax cut under previous iterations of Republican reform, do not receive one here—and it's equally hard to argue that the American public at large is clamoring for its passage.

So why have Republicans made health care reform the centerpiece of their legislative agenda this year, returning to the issue multiple times despite failure after failure? The answer is that most of the key actors within the party are philosophically unreconciled to the use of government power to grant health insurance benefits to large swaths of the population. For some Republican politicians, reducing the public sector's role in the provision of health care has been a personal cause "since [they] were drinking from a keg"; for others, intense pressure from Republican activists and financial donors has spurred them to pursue repeated attempts at reform despite the considerable frustration and political risk involved.

The ideological basis of Republican behavior on health care also accounts for why the party has taken a slapdash approach to the crafting of legislation, pulling together bills affecting a major sector of the American economy in a matter of days without substantial public debate or favorable expert analysis. Most Republican officeholders are not invested in policy details or particularly curious about how their favored reforms would operate in practice. If any initiative that moves public policy to the right is desirable by definition, the specifics are much less important than the general directional thrust.

It's also noteworthy that while Republican health care reform initiatives are most commonly treated as efforts to "repeal and replace" the Affordable Care Act, each major bill—including Graham-Cassidy—has included cuts to Medicaid funding that go well beyond simply rolling back the expansion contained in the ACA. For all the public focus on Trump's supposed personal obsession with exacting revenge on Obama, the true aim of Republican policymakers has consistently been the achievement of a much broader and more permanent reduction of the federal government's health care footprint.

Whether one has been cheering or booing the results, this year so far has marked a clear departure from models of legislative action that emphasize transactional politics among interest-group stakeholders mediated by the application of policy expertise. Of course, such approaches have historically been open to criticism that they are insufficiently informed by broader ideological visions or values. The view that government-provided health insurance amounts to a normatively unacceptable implementation of a leftist or socialist belief system has only become more prevalent among Republicans in recent years, the pragmatic rhetorical patina of Trumpian "populism" notwithstanding. If politics were merely a battle of interests and not a war of ideas, the anti-government health care cause wouldn't keep springing back to life every time it appeared to be DOA.

Thursday, September 14, 2017

The Asymmetric Politics of Trump's Dreamers Deal

Late last night, Democratic congressional leaders Chuck Schumer and Nancy Pelosi triumphantly announced that they had reached an agreement with President Trump over dinner at the White House under which Trump would support legislation shielding the "Dreamers," immigrants brought unlawfully to the U.S. as children, from deportation in exchange for enhanced border security measures (though not Trump's famous "wall"). While there is still considerable confusion about the details of what was and was not explicitly agreed to (confusion stoked in part by members of the Trump administration who probably oppose the deal and are trying to undo it), Trump's willingness to enter a legislative bargain with top Democrats to enact a more liberal immigration policy has predictably taken Washington by surprise.

There will be plenty written in the days and weeks ahead about how this development reflects Trump's own unique personality, unsteady command of policy, and strong feelings of resentment towards Republicans in Congress. Stripping away the individual eccentricities of the current incumbent, however, leaves us with a self-identified conservative Republican president cooperating with congressional Democrats to move domestic policy to the left—which is hardly an unprecedented development. Our Asymmetric Politics framework can explain why Republican presidents seek such agreements, and why Democrats in Congress are also open to them.

One of the most reliable challenges facing Republican leaders is the relative unpopularity of conservative policies among American voters, especially in the domestic sphere. Even many citizens who consider themselves to be conservative Republicans do not support the substantial cuts to public benefits and programs that conservative doctrine prescribes. Despite years of promises, Republicans have so far failed to repeal the Affordable Care Act in large part because of worries from members representing swing districts that revoking health insurance from millions of Americans would prompt a serious backlash, and even pro-repeal politicians—Trump included—repeatedly denied that their replacement plans would result in a loss of coverage despite considerable evidence to the contrary.

Recognizing this danger, previous Republican presidents have found signature issues on which to break with their party's ideological orthodoxy by protecting or introducing popular left-leaning policies. George W. Bush passed the No Child Left Behind Act and the Medicare Part D prescription drug program; George H. W. Bush signed the Americans with Disabilities Act, an expanded Clean Air Act, and a raise in the minimum wage; and Ronald Reagan reached bipartisan agreements on immigration, transportation, and Social Security. As Matt Grossmann and I pointed out last month, Trump's record in office up until now has been distinctive for its comparative lack of significant left-of-center policy initiatives, despite ubiquitous media characterizations of Trump as possessing significantly less ideological or partisan fidelity than his Republican predecessors.

Trump knows as well as anyone that symbolic appeals to general anti-immigrant sentiment in the mass public can be electorally powerful, especially in Republican primaries. But he also realizes that a specific policy change subjecting the Dreamers, an especially sympathetic group, to mass deportation would be very unpopular. Though he acquiesced to Attorney General Jeff Sessions and other immigration hawks in ordering an end to the DACA program earlier this month, Trump immediately sent signals that he was eager to come to an agreement with Congress to preserve the Dreamers' legal protections.

Some observers find it unusual not only that Trump would be willing to make such a deal, but that Democrats would take him up on it:


The idea that engaging in blanket opposition to a president's policies, regardless of their inherent merit, is smart politics because it causes voters to become disillusioned with the effectiveness of the incumbent administration was a major premise of Republican strategic behavior during the Obama years. Here again, though, the two parties are not mirror images of each other. Democrats don't like Trump any more than Republicans liked Obama, but they are much more likely to remain open to opportunities for policy-making cooperation than their partisan counterparts were during the previous administration.

The main reason for this, as we explained in Asymmetric Politics, is that the Democratic Party is a social group coalition, not an ideological movement. Democrats correctly perceive their constituents as more interested in achieving real-world policy accomplishments furthering their concrete group interests than in remaining true to abstract ideological doctrines or engaging in obstruction for purely electoral aims. Most Democrats are willing to share credit, even with the detested Trump, if they can successfully find a practical solution to the Dreamers' current legal predicament. They came to Washington to legislate, and will happily do so if they can deliver the policies favored by their own partisan base.

We are, of course, a long way from an actual bill hitting the president's desk, and there are many ways that the current agreement can fall apart. But if Trump maintains the capacity to learn from experience, he would do well to take note of the lesson offered by this week's events. He can be a consistently conservative president, or he can be a legislatively productive president. Maybe he'll wind up being neither. But it's really hard to be both.

Wednesday, September 06, 2017

How Big a Deal Is Trump's Debt Limit Deal?

Today brought the unexpected news that President Trump had reached an agreement with the Democratic congressional leadership (later publicly endorsed by Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell) to pass legislation combining Hurricane Harvey disaster relief with an extension of the debt ceiling until December 15 and a continuing resolution funding the federal government through the same date. If a bill containing these provisions successfully makes its way through Congress, it will remove the possibility of a government shutdown or default on the national debt for the next three months.

The media immediately formed a consensus that Democratic negotiators had claimed a major achievement at Republican expense. Politico reported that Trump "sided with Democrats . . . relinquishing the GOP's leverage." The Atlantic called the agreement "Trump's Early Christmas Gift to Democrats." Jonathan Swan of Axios even wrote that Trump had "handed Nancy Pelosi and Chuck Schumer the deal of the century."

It's undisputed that Trump indeed quickly accepted Democratic leaders' offer of a three-month debt ceiling extension over his own party's (and Treasury Secretary's) preference for a longer relief period. The conclusion that Trump had betrayed his fellow Republicans was widely shared by both sides on Capitol Hill; frustrated Republican incumbents privately (and in some cases publicly) griped about the president, while jubilant Democrats attempted to control their outward expressions of glee lest they provoke Trump to reconsider his decision.

But did Schumer and Pelosi really pull off the "deal of the century," justifying the multiple expressions of unfettered liberal elation and conservative dissatisfaction that dominated the day's analysis?

The case for why the deal with Trump was a big win for the Democrats and a horrible defeat for the GOP goes something like this: Democrats managed to secure hurricane relief and three more months of government funding without making any policy concessions to conservatives, while simultaneously guaranteeing that another vote on raising the debt ceiling will be required in just three months' time. Because Democratic votes will be needed once again to avoid a potentially calamitous debt default in December, the party will be in good position to make additional policy demands in exchange for its support. Moreover, the need for Congress to spend the last few weeks of 2017 on spending and debt negotiations will complicate Republican ambitions to complete a tax reform plan before the holidays, leaving the party with no major legislative achievements to show for its first full year in power since 2006.

The main problem with this analysis is that it arguably overstates the capacity of both parties—the Republicans today, the Democrats in the future—to leverage government funding and debt ceiling showdowns to extract major policy concessions from the opposition. It's true that some conservatives had planned to hold the debt ceiling hostage in order to force broad-based spending cuts, just as some liberals might now dream of using similar tactics to jam a legislative authorization of DACA through an otherwise reluctant Congress. But we've had enough of these governing crises over the past few years to conclude with some confidence that they are ultimately resolved via bipartisan agreements that more or less preserve the policy status quo. A hypothetical Democratic threat to endanger the credit of the United States over immigration reform wouldn't necessarily have any greater chance of success than the Republicans' misguided 2013 attempt to compel the repeal of Obamacare by shutting down the government.

Whether the Trump-Pelosi-Schumer deal represents a serious blow to tax reform's chances in the current Congress also depends on one's prior estimation of those chances—which were clearly on the wane even before today's news broke. Republicans are not even close to passing the budget resolution that is a necessary procedural precursor to the consideration of their tax reform plan. (Also, they do not, as of yet, have a tax reform plan.) Republicans can even take solace in apparently avoiding a damaging but entirely plausible scenario: a standoff between Trump and Democratic leaders over funding for a border wall that could have led to an indefinite government shutdown, leaving the congressional GOP caught hopelessly in the middle.

But while the policy implications of Wednesday's deal are unclear and possibly quite modest in scope, the political consequences are much more significant. By endorsing the Democrats' offer in negotiations over the stated position of his own party's congressional leaders, Trump humiliated Mitch McConnell and Paul Ryan, further intensifying the war between the president and his nominal allies in Congress that has been steadily progressing all summer. This was no accident. Trump nurtures a lengthening list of grievances with both men and was apparently looking for an opportunity to land a few punches. The GOP thus moves closer to a state of open schism between its executive and legislative wings, and the hopes of last winter that Trump would happily follow the direction of veteran party leaders recede even further into the distance.