Bartlett: Learning the Art of the Deal

Democrats need to take President Donald Trump’s DACA proposal seriously.

by Nicholas Bartlett | 2/1/18 12:30am

In the week following the end of the government shutdown, American politics have been riddled with speculation and conjecture regarding the future of the Delayed Action for Childhood Arrivals program. It seems that President Donald Trump — master of the art of the deal — has finally responded by proposing his own framework: DACA could survive and the children of undocumented immigrants who were brought to the U.S. at a young age could be given a special path to citizenship. However, the proposition comes with a caveat. A DACA revival would only come to fruition if Congress (particularly the Democratic aisle) agrees to fund the construction of the wall along the U.S.-Mexico border. This deal is expensive; it is ostentatious; but most importantly, it is worth taking.

I am not so foolish as to believe that accepting these terms will be an easy feat for congressional Democrats. After all, ceding any ground to one’s ideological opposite is frequently seen as a sign of weakness. The usual course of action is to stand up for one’s beliefs no matter the cost — or the gain, in this case. This mindset has only been exacerbated by the extremely polarizing nature of the Trump administration, birthing a rather simple dichotomy; one is either with Trump or against him. Yet despite the prevalence of party politics in 2018, this is one instance where the Democrats should be content to align themselves with the “bad guy” to gain ground on something for which they have desperately fought throughout the past few months. While accepting the deal would require members of the party to swallow their pride to an extent, their concession would ultimately give Dreamers — children affected by the DACA program — a path to permanent citizenship. And this is what they want, right?

The answer to that question is a nebulous one — backed by the paradoxical nature of policy and perception. Policy-wise, any formal implementation of DACA would be a huge victory for Democratic (and liberal) values. In that sense, advancing the legislation would be a huge victory for the party’s ideology and goals. Yet, this would come at the cost of the party’s current political image. This effort, spearheaded by Trump, could ultimately provide a boon to the Republican Party as much as — if not more so — to their Democrat contemporaries. Not only would the construction of the border wall solidify the voter base which granted Republicans the congressional majority and presidency in the first place, but the deal would simultaneously appeal to the immigrant constituency as a result of its protection of the Dreamers. The latter is particularly problematic for the Democratic Party, as it has been the primary beneficiary of the immigrant vote in recent elections, meaning that any shift in these voter constituencies could lead to great ramifications in the 2018 midterm elections and beyond.

Balancing their objectives and public image has most likely been one of the Democrats’ primary impediments in the proceedings thus far, but they need to be cautious about how long they choose to wait before making a decision. As Trump administration’s “pro-DACA” perception grows, it will only become more difficult to actively oppose a deal that advocates one of their principal policies without inviting significant backlash. In this sense, the longer that Democrat lawmakers wait, the harder that it will be to say no and to appease their constituency.

With this in mind, Democrats need to take what Trump is giving them. He has proven to be a divisive leader in the past, and it is highly probable that, should they reject the current offer, he will never make another one. Certainly, the wall itself will be extremely costly, to the tune of $25 billion. The notion of Trump as the “great compromiser” is one that could hurt the Democratic narrative, but this deal is a rare opportunity in the American political landscape — one that would allow both sides to get exactly what they want — and to pass it up would be foolish.

Do not prioritize the party’s image over the future of 3.6 million Dreamers. Compromise. Give a little, and get a little. Build the wall. To Trump, make good on the promise to implement DACA and provide the Dreamers with a path to citizenship. Actions speak louder than words, after all. But first, show what you really are, Democrats: pro or anti DACA.