Wednesday, March 14, 2018

Pennsylvania Special Election Recap: Good News for Democrats? Yes. 100+ Seats in Play This Year? Not Quite.

It's always possible to overinterpret the outcome of a single special election; at the same time, even one more data point can help us make a little bit more sense of the political world around us. Here are a few things that can be gleaned from tonight's results in Pennsylvania:

1. The photo finish between Democratic candidate Conor Lamb and Republican nominee Rick Saccone (with Lamb currently in apparent position to eke out a victory) in a district previously considered safely Republican indeed represents a notable development, but not a shocking one. It comports with the historical pattern of electoral politics: the opposition party reliably makes gains in midterm elections, and the magnitude of the swing is correlated with the (un)popularity of the president. The importance of tonight's outcome lies primarily in its confirmation that these dynamics still hold today as they have in the past. But the current state of President Trump's job approval rating and the congressional "generic ballot" polling already signaled that 2018 is likely to be a good year for Democratic candidates.

2. Even so, the outcome in PA-18 may itself prompt members of the Washington community to revise their predictions about what's likely to happen in November, although there's plenty of existing information on which to base their analyses. There's an undeniable psychological difference between expecting something to happen and actually watching it occur. I remember the 2006 midterms, when—despite piles of survey data pointing to a Democratic takeover of the House of Representatives—a number of pundits had a hard time actually envisioning an end to what at that point was a 12-year Republican reign over the House until the votes actually came in on the night of the election.

As for the parties themselves, whatever spin we hear from either side doesn't mean very much. What's important is what they do. Will Republicans start to act as if they believe their majority is now in serious danger? Will there be criticism directed, on the record or on background, by rank-and-file members of Congress toward Republican leaders, including the president, for putting the party in such a precarious position? Or will incumbents sincerely adopt the view that the results in PA-18, along with those in the Alabama Senate race last year, reflected a mismatch in candidate quality more than a fundamental deterioration of the GOP's electoral strength?

3. Special elections can also be opportunities for the parties to test out their campaign messages in advance of a national vote. One lesson that the Republicans appear to have taken away from their Pennsylania experience is that the December tax cut bill is of limited popularity and/or salience in the electorate. Since the current congressional majority has few other accomplishments for which to claim credit, this suggests that the fall elections will be fought over something other than the legislative record of the past two years. (It's likely at any rate that the midterms will be dominated by Trump and Trumpism regardless of what most individual candidates do.)

4. It's common for election analysts these days to use the 2016 presidential election results, or measures derived from them (such as the Partisan Voting Index, or PVI), as a benchmark to characterize the party leaning of states and congressional districts: a +5 Clinton seat, a +10 Trump seat, etc. In general, presidential and congressional voting results are strongly correlated, making these figures good rules of thumb in most cases. But there are still parts of the country where voters behave somewhat differently when choosing presidential and non-presidential candidates; moreover, the distinctive candidacies of Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump (and, before that, Barack Obama) have the potential to produce slightly misleading pictures of the "fundamental" partisan composition of a particular constituency.

Specifically, it's worth noting that while PA-18 gave Trump a 20-point margin over Clinton in 2016, Democrats still slightly outnumber Republicans in the district's party registration figures. Washington County, most of which lies within the district, supported Trump over Clinton by 60 percent to 36 percent and Mitt Romney to Obama in 2012 by 56 percent to 42 percent, but had narrowly preferred John Kerry to George W. Bush in 2004 and had given Al Gore a 53-44 advantage over Bush in 2000.

Of course, things have changed since 2004, and recent elections are more predictive of future outcomes than more distant ones. But it's worth keeping in mind that the world of American politics did not experience a complete rebirth in 2016, rendering all previous history irrelevant. With more time and perspective, we'll be better able to tell how much of the 2016 alignment represents a "new normal" and how much is a temporary deviation from longer-term patterns.

The demonstration that a Democratic candidate like Lamb could win back many former supporters, especially among the white non-college population, who had defected in 2016 is good news for the party. Democrats are defending multiple Senate seats in states that not only supported Donald Trump over Hillary Clinton, but also shifted significantly in the Republican direction in 2016—including Missouri, West Virginia, North Dakota, Indiana, Montana, and Ohio. In order to avoid a devastating series of defeats in Senate races this year, Democrats need to attract voters who had previously backed the party's candidates but who either abandoned Clinton for Trump or merely stayed home.

At the same time, I'd recommend being a bit wary of the claim, oft-repeated during Tuesday night's coverage, that there are more than 100 Republican-held House seats that are more electorally vulnerable than PA-18. Again, that's true if we use PVI or Trump's 2016 margin over Clinton as the sole measure of partisan competitiveness, but PA-18 has more of a Democratic tradition—and labor union presence—than most other districts that gave Trump (and Romney before him) comparable margins.

Republicans undoubtedly appear to be in serious danger of losing their 24-seat (now, perhaps, 23-seat) House majority later this year. But any implication that the number of seats gained by Democrats in November could approach triple figures is not exactly realistic.

Thursday, March 01, 2018

Nothing Affects the Washington Climate Like Presidential Job Approval

There are many ways in which the Trump presidency is historically distinctive, but one of the most consequential is how unpopular it has been right from the start. Before Trump, even those new presidents who won a close election or entered office amidst controversy enjoyed a "honeymoon period" of elevated public support during the first months of their administrations. Of the previous twelve presidents who served during the era of modern survey research, eight ended their first year in office with average job approval ratings of at least 55 percent, and approving citizens outnumbered disapprovers at that stage of their term for all twelve.

But according to the poll aggregator at FiveThirtyEight, Trump's approval rating has never climbed higher than 48 percent—which in itself represents a transient peak reached briefly in the days immediately after his inauguration. The share of Americans who disapproved of his performance first exceeded those who approved on February 4, 2017, barely two weeks into his presidency, and reached 51 percent of all surveyed citizens (including those who responded "don't know") on March 16; it has not dropped below this level since.

These approval ratings matter a lot for presidents. Denizens of Washington, both in and out of government, pay close attention to the polls and maintain a rough consensus across partisan and ideological lines over whether the president is popular or unpopular, gaining or losing ground. Job approval numbers act as a kind of highly visible thermometer measuring the political climate surrounding the White House, and everyone in the vicinity agrees that high temperatures are much more comfortable than low ones.

Presidents with positive ratings can harness their popularity to pressure Congress, to win battles with organized interests, and to recruit strong candidates for their party in congressional elections (and discourage strong potential opponents). But the latest reported survey numbers also strongly color the press coverage that presidents receive. Journalists and commentators rely on approval ratings as an accessible and "objective" measure of presidential success, and they also tend to be very sensitive to accusations of being snobbish or out of touch with the wider public. How better to demonstrate that one is properly attuned to the preferences and perspectives of Mr. and Ms. America than by crediting presidents with effective leadership when the polls say the voters are happy and by dwelling on their failures when the electorate is doing the same?

In 2002 and 2003, for example, media coverage routinely characterized George W. Bush as tough, decisive, dedicated, politically deft, administratively effective, and surrounded by a skilled team of subordinates. By 2007 and 2008, after both the national economy and the Iraq War had fallen into crisis on his watch, Bush was frequently portrayed as detached, out of his depth, and hampered by political and managerial incompetence. It was almost as if the occupant of the White House had become a different person entirely. What had happened instead was that the same man—with, presumably, the same personal qualities—had seen his national popularity drop by more than 50 percentage points from one point to the next.

The various public mishaps and chronic internal tensions of the Trump administration would have produced a series of unfavorable media stories in any circumstance, but the collective Washington judgment that the current chief executive is fundamentally ill-suited to his position is much less likely to have formed if his approval ratings had remained above 50 percent. Trump had an opportunity immediately after his shocking electoral upset to convince professional observers that he served as an adept and formidable messenger of a growing populist rebellion. However, the public's dim response to his governing record from its earliest days forward has merely reinforced the general perception that he is instead something of an accidental president—and, above all, a particularly hapless one. If a consistent majority of Americans told pollsters that they trusted Trump's judgment on how to handle North Korea, viewed the Mueller investigation as illegitimate, and found the president's Twitter persona charmingly delightful, the tone of press coverage on these and other matters would be much different than they are. And Democratic leaders would be faced with persistent questions about whether their party was mired in an enduring crisis.

Given the current state of (relative) national peace and prosperity, it's likely that a president who lacked Trump's unappealing personal attributes would be enjoying positive job approval ratings these days. Another, more popular Republican incumbent would be in a position to protect the party's congressional majorities in the 2018 midterm elections—and even to sow havoc in the ranks of the opposition by forcing red-state Democrats to choose between angering their party base and alienating the general electorate in their home constituencies. (The extent to which Trump's foibles have limited the political pressure on vulnerable Democratic Senate incumbents like Joe Donnelly of Indiana and Claire McCaskill of Missouri is one of the undertold stories of the 2017–2018 session of Congress.) Even if one believes that the president has been more successful than acknowledged, or even that he is on track to win a second term, surely the opportunity cost paid by the Republican Party for electing President Trump rather than a President Rubio or President Kasich is still quite considerable.

A few weeks ago, a series of polls started to report a minor upward trend in Trump's job approval. Because the media love to have something new to talk about, this movement received a substantial amount of notice in the press even though the president's rating only rose a few points into the low 40s on average (41 percent according to FiveThirtyEight, 42 percent according to RealClearPolitics, and 43 percent according to HuffPost). In part, the approval bump attracted attention because it coincided with a narrowing of the Democratic advantage in the "generic ballot" polls asking voters which party they plan to support in the 2018 midterm elections.

Over the past 10 days or so, however, Trump's modest surge has started to reverse, and the generic ballot is also moving back in the Democratic direction. We'll no doubt experience several more such fluctuations between now and November, and a few media stories proclaiming a "Trump comeback" will likely ensue whenever the polls register upward momentum for a week or two. From a larger perspective, though, the current administration remains historically unpopular, and only a truly dramatic, double-digit shift in voter sentiment could fully convince the Washington community that the president had regained his touch with the public.

One particularly curious quirk of the oft-atypical Trump regime is the apparent absence of a standard White House political shop headed by a professional strategist with substantial internal access and influence—a Karl Rove, David Axelrod, or Jim Baker type. In a normal presidency struggling with subpar approval ratings and a looming national election, well-connected publications like the Washington Post and Politico would be filled at this stage with one story after another about this operation's internal analysis of its political difficulties and its planned strategies for restoring the political standing of its party in the months before the balloting started.

But the current president, his chief of staff, and many of his top aides all lack substantial partisan-elective experience; if there is indeed anyone directing such an effort, it seems to be a well-kept secret at the moment. (What's Kellyanne Conway up to these days?) Expect increasingly nervous congressional Republicans to soon start dropping hints in the press that a White House habitually shrouded in a fog of its own self-made distractions is not paying enough attention to the potentially perilous fate of its nominal allies on Capitol Hill. Members of Congress are Washingtonians too, after all—and just like everyone else in their community, they're keeping a close eye on those job approval ratings.

Thursday, February 22, 2018

Today's Generation Gap Is Being Widened by the Conservative Media

Americans disagree much more about politics today across generational lines than they did in the well-chronicled era when youthful cultural icons announced to their parents that "your sons and your daughters are beyond your command" and "I hope I die before I get old." The partisan differences between the youngest and eldest cohorts of voters have not received the same public attention as other forms of contemporary political conflict, but they are now bigger in size than the more celebrated divisions between men and women, the college-educated and the non-college-educated, and the residents of red and blue states.

Younger people may be reliably more idealistic and less nostalgic than their elders, but that doesn't always make them more liberal. In the 1980s, for example, Ronald Reagan and other Republicans ran as well or better among the young as the old. Reagan-era conservatives appealed to younger Americans by portraying themselves as innovative and forward-thinking, while arguing that the Democratic Party had become a corrupted relic of bygone days.

But over time, the dominant tone of conservative rhetoric has become darker, more pessimistic or alarmist about the future, and more critical of ongoing social trends of which young people largely approve. Conservatives responded to the rise of Barack Obama, a personally popular figure among younger Americans, with eight years of relentless opposition. And as conservatism's messages have evolved, so too has the receptiveness of newer generations to conservative politicians and ideas. Voters under the age of 40 were evenly split between the parties as recently as the 2000 election; by the 2010s, the Democratic Party was reliably prevailing among this age group by margins of 20 points or more.

From time to time, Republican officials have expressed concern about this development and have proposed steps to increase their party's standing among younger voters. But power within the extended Republican network has been flowing away from politicians and toward the conservative media over the same period that the GOP's youth problem has emerged. It's media talking heads, not elected officials, who are now the primary spokespeople for American conservatism. Freed from political candidates' need to court a popular majority, the increasingly loud voices of Fox News and talk radio are free to appeal to their smaller core audience of right-leaning senior citizens by ignoring or even explicitly ridiculing the concerns and activities of younger Americans.

Contemporary conservative rhetoric is often characterized by exhibitions of bewildered discontentment directed at younger people and the cultural environment that envelops them. Mockery of millennials and college students as "snowflakes," "campus crazies," and "social justice warriors" has become commonplace in conservative media outlets over the last few years, intensifying when an issue arises that especially activates the generational divide. Last Thursday, for example, a 54-year-old conservative prime time host engaged in a public fight with a 33-year-old who is also perhaps the most popular professional athlete of his generation, insisting that his proper role in society is to "dribble" rather than express his views about race relations in the United States.

As high school students who survived the Parkland, Florida school shooting have mounted a public anti-gun campaign over the past week, several conservative media personalities have responded by suggesting that the young age of the activists renders their opinions on the subject illegitimate. (Meanwhile, the more conspiratorial corners of the conservative media ecosystem have reacted in their own unique fashion, dismissing the students as actors on the payroll of shadowy leftists.) President Trump, himself a conservative media figure before he ran for elective office, argued today that violent movies and video games help to encourage school shootings—placing responsibility for social violence on young people's own consumer choices.

All in all, the messages transmitted by conservative elites these days are doing little to redirect younger citizens' collective left-of-center political alignment. Even young adults who are skeptical of gun control or other liberal causes are unlikely to respond positively to the argument that they should automatically defer to the judgment of their elders on political matters, or that social ills can be cured by regulating their favorite pastimes.

It's possible that the current state of political conflict will lead today's younger citizens to form a lifelong preference for the Democratic Party, thus burdening Republicans with a long-term electoral disadvantage. Whether or not that happens, however, the more immediate consequences of stoking generational warfare are not necessarily unfavorable to conservatives. Seniors and near-seniors have become more pro-Republican over the past decade, and they participate in politics at much higher rates than their children and grandchildren.

So far, evidence of an incipient millennial-led liberal revolution is much more apparent in the youth-dominated pop culture world than in a political system led by conservative Republicans at every level of government. If conservative media rhetoric is partially at fault for alienating young people from the Republican Party, it may be equally responsible for attracting more older Americans to the ranks of the GOP during the same period. Fox News Channel recently retired its famous slogan "Fair and Balanced"; perhaps its next catchy motto will be "Don't Trust Anyone Under 30."

Thursday, February 15, 2018

The GOP Made Trump More Conservative—But Trump's Also Making the GOP More Conservative

The single biggest pearl of Beltway conventional wisdom to suffer irreversible tarnish in 2017 was the notion that Donald Trump stood for an iconoclastic "populism" poised to redefine the dominant governing ideology of the Republican Party. Trump's past support for Democratic candidates and policies, his weak ties to conservative elites in Washington, and his infrequent rhetorical devotion to the American right's familiar themes of limited government, constitutional fealty, individual liberty, and traditionalist sexual ethics convinced many political analysts during the 2016 campaign that he represented a dramatic break from his adopted party's existing ideological legacy. Critics ranging across the political spectrum from National Review to Barack Obama reinforced the dominant news media judgment that Trump was not a regular conservative—and voters ultimately agreed, perceiving Trump as significantly closer to the ideological center than previous Republican presidential nominees.

But the existing Republican Party has exerted a strong gravitational pull on Trump, who seems to lack many personal substantive commitments and who does not command a larger faction of allies within the GOP dedicated to shifting its platform away from standard conservative positions. Indeed, Trump's record in office so far can be fairly described as the most consistently conservative of any president in modern history, as he has proven to be much less inclined than Richard Nixon, Gerald Ford, either George Bush, or even Ronald Reagan to pursue centrist or bipartisan initiatives in select policy domains.

And in at least one major area, it's Trump who's pushing other Republicans in a conservative direction rather than vice versa. The extensive attention devoted by the mainstream media to Trump's verbal departures from conservative doctrine on topics like trade, Medicare, and the Iraq War in 2016 somewhat obscured the fact that on his signature issue—immigration—Trump quite conspicuously ran to the ideological right of the rest of the Republican presidential field, to say nothing of the Democratic opposition.

While Candidate Trump's invocations of economic populism and military non-intervention have not often guided the policy positions of President Trump's administration, his commitment to reducing the number of immigrants residing in the United States has only deepened once in office. The Trump campaign mostly emphasized combating illegal immigration via more aggressive internal enforcement and a "big, beautiful wall" across the Mexican border, but the Trump presidency is also pursuing a significant cut in legal immigration rates and proposing reforms to the criteria governing the process of granting authorization to would-be residents. Attempts by congressional Democrats and a few breakaway Republicans to provide "DREAMers" with legal status in exchange for increased border security funds have now foundered in Congress due in large part to newfound presidential demands over the past few weeks that major reductions to lawful immigration also be included in the deal.

To be sure, the Republican Party as a whole has not yet openly embraced Trump's call for slashing legal immigration rates. Even some supporters of the Senate legislation endorsed by Trump are not publicly defending the very provisions in the bill that would implement such a policy, and business interests within the Republican Party network are unlikely to be satisfied (the U.S. Chamber of Commerce has already expressed its opposition). But the bulk of congressional Republicans, including top leaders in both chambers, have backed the Trump administration's proposal to resolve the DACA issue by rolling it into a larger reform bill that would otherwise shift immigration policy in a more restrictive direction on the legal and illegal fronts alike, while opposing the narrower DREAMers-for-security-dollars swap negotiated by a bipartisan Senate group.

There are political risks to the Trump approach. Previous Republican presidents departed from ideological purity because they also prized racking up legislative achievements and appealing to voters beyond their party base. Trump is making a very different bet—though not necessarily an incorrect one—that holding to a tough line on immigration will either compel Democrats to make further concessions or keep an issue alive that works to his electoral advantage even if he can't (accurately) claim progress in constructing his famous border wall. The pragmatic, deal-making, I-can-fix-it Trump we heard so much about during the 2016 campaign still makes occasional appearances for the benefit of the cameras; only last month this Trump publicly told Congress he'd sign any bipartisan agreement on DACA and "take the heat" from his supporters for doing so. But the Trump who actually governs, the Trump who shot down the bipartisan agreement with which he was then presented in a fusillade of anger, is best understood as the increasingly ideological leader of an increasingly ideological party.

Friday, February 02, 2018

Don't Expect Much Legislation From Congress in 2018

Even during normal political times, the internal operation of Congress gets much less than its rightful share of attention from the news media and public. With Donald Trump as president? Forget it. But amidst all the other drama of this eventful week, a few important clues emerged about the road ahead for Congress in 2018. They all seem to point in the same direction: to a relatively unproductive legislative year.

First, it's important to note that Congress has some major unfinished business left over from 2017, due to its failure to pass annual appropriations legislation by the end of the previous fiscal year on September 30. Instead, the government has been funded via a series of short-term continuing resolutions that periodically expire and require extension (allowing the Senate Democrats to engineer last week's temporary government shutdown simply by filibustering the latest iteration). Congressional leaders have signaled that they don't expect to reach a final agreement on domestic and military spending levels before March at the earliest, which means that another resolution will need to be passed next week to keep the government open until then.

When combined with an impending need to raise the federal debt ceiling in order to prevent default on the national debt, this means that a fair amount of legislative energy over the next two months will be devoted to what would normally be considered the basic necessities of government. Even next week's vote on a new continuing resolution is not free from complication; dissatisfied conservative purists threatened this week to join with Democrats to vote it down on the floor of the House and thus force another shutdown. Past experience suggests that Republican leaders will ultimately strike a deal with a sufficient number of party holdouts to push the bill through, but every day spent on negotiations over appropriations is a day lost to other priorities.

The decreasing probability that Congress approves a budget resolution this year also indicates that Republicans will not be able to use the budget reconciliation process to pass a major item on the party's legislative agenda by a simple majority in the Senate (as they did last year to enact tax reform). While some members of Congress express enthusiasm for taking another crack at repealing the Affordable Care Act, doing so would require not only passage of a budget resolution but also persuading two of last summer's three opposing Republican senators to change their minds (since the December election of Doug Jones in Alabama has narrowed the partisan margin in the chamber to 51–49).

President Trump's unusually policy-free State of the Union address also seemed to signal a lack of imminent congressional action. Trump's speech included a brief advance promotion of his infrastructure plan (the public release of which is, according to his aides, perpetually just around the corner) but did not leave the impression that he or his administration would devote much energy in the near future to pressuring reluctant conservatives or persuading opposition Democrats on the subject.

It's also an election year in which the current partisan majority, at least in the House, is vulnerable to defeat—which means that Republicans will be in no mood this summer or fall to spend long weeks legislating in Washington rather than attending to their home constituencies. Other leaders might have acted to build a longer list of legislative accomplishments prior to the midterms by finding topics with popular appeal that were well-situated for bipartisan dealmaking—anti-sexual harassment and assault measures? maybe something on opioids?—but it seems clear from this week's party retreat that Republicans have decided to focus their 2018 electoral message on taking credit for last year's tax cuts.

That leaves immigration as the most likely subject matter of any major non-budgetary legislative initiative enacted between now and November, though the chances still seem fairly modest from today's perspective. The approaching March expiration of DACA will compel the two parties to devote the next month to negotiations, but the probability of a comprehensive immigration agreement appears remote absent a significant concession by one or both sides. More likely, Trump will be faced with a choice between a narrow deal and no deal at all.

The decaying state of the legislative process in Congress is a subject that deserves much more public consideration than it has received. The decline of committee influence and expertise, the increasing power of party leaders at the expense of other members, the increasingly slapdash approach to major policy-making, and the fading institutional loyalty of incumbents to the legislative branch are all developments with wide-ranging implications for the workings of American government; they  should rightfully concern members of both parties. Even in a period of electoral triumph, many Republicans have expressed dissatisfaction with the congressional experience—and are voting with their feet by retiring in record numbers.

Relegated to the minority, at least for now, Democrats aren't any happier. Senator Joe Manchin of West Virginia briefly threw a scare into his fellow members of the Democratic caucus late last month when he flirted with retirement—which would almost certainly have thrown his seat to the Republican opposition. Manchin was persuaded to seek another six-year term in the Senate this November, though not before he expressed his displeasure with the operation of the institution whose members once frequently pronounced themselves the "world's greatest deliberative body."

"This place sucks," said Manchin.

Wednesday, January 24, 2018

The Real Leverage on DACA Isn't Shutdowns, It's Stephen Miller

On Friday night, most of the Democratic caucus in the Senate protested against the lack of legislative progress on fixing the DACA program by voting against cloture on a Republican continuing resolution (CR) funding the federal government through February 16, thus precipitating a government shutdown. On Monday, most Democrats joined Republicans in voting to reopen the government through February 8—having won an informal agreement that the Senate majority leader would bring an immigration reform bill to the floor if one is produced by a bipartisan working group of senators.

Compared to the original demands of Senate Democrats, the "deal" they struck to reopen the government didn't look like much of a victory. Compared to 1995-96 and 2013 (when Republicans got nothing but political pain out of two much longer shutdowns), winning a shorter CR, a public pledge by Mitch McConnell, and a six-year reauthorization of the CHIP program (included in both bills) seemed like a pretty decent haul. But the experience seems to have left feelings of dissatisfaction across much of the party; moderate Senate Democrats either opposed or reluctantly supported the shutdown in the first place, while some liberal activists complained that Democrats caved too early and thus revealed the shallowness of their sympathy to the plight of the DREAMers.

Extracting a big payoff from a shutdown is probably impossible in most cases, because the cost is borne not only by the political opposition (if at all) but also by the public at large. Even if they sympathize with the underlying objectives, citizens will soon start to wonder why they have to suffer the inconveniences associated with an unfunded government. For a party out of power, forcing a shutdown is somewhat like running out onto the field during a sporting event—it seems in the moment like a dramatic act of defiant self-assertion, but immediately upon execution reveals a limited consideration of the key question "so then what happens?"

It's true that most Americans support a solution that would allow the DREAMers to remain in the United States lawfully; it's equally true that most Republican politicians are reluctant (with good reason) to cast their votes in favor of any bill that could be characterized by a future primary opponent as constituting "amnesty for illegals." The main obstacle to successful bipartisan negotiations over the issue has been the long and growing list of concessions that Trump and other Republican leaders have demanded as a price for their support. But these demands in turn reflect a political reality in which risk for Republicans exists much more on one side of the issue than the other—and government shutdowns aren't likely to change those calculations much.

If the DACA expiration date of March 5 arrives without a deal, however, the Trump administration will have to decide what to do about the DREAMers. It's quite possible that Trump will choose not to prioritize immigration enforcement measures against those who have registered under DACA despite the program's nominal cessation; it's also possible that the administration's freedom to maneuver will be limited at least temporarily by legal action. But there's a reasonable chance that Trump, encouraged by the immigration hawks on his staff like White House senior policy advisor Stephen Miller, will preside over the deportation proceedings of significant numbers of DACA-eligible immigrants.

Polling suggests that such a development, if it occurs, would be unpopular with the public, and congressional Republicans already facing an electoral headwind in 2018 would not welcome a campaign season characterized by widespread media images of sympathetic DREAMers being detained by federal agents. Another president might be counted on to spare his party such politically difficult developments in an important election year, but Trump hardly enjoys the private trust of his fellow Republican officeholders. If a bipartisan DACA agreement is indeed successfully enacted into law—an improbable development, from today's vantage point—it is much more likely to reflect Republican fears of an untrammeled Trump than another shutdown showdown.