The Next Steps in the Chess Game


Plainly, the joint conference committee set up to address border security will come up with some extra money in the next three weeks.

If there is a strong case on the merits that some extension of existing fencing will provide additional border security, I hope Democrats will support spending money for that purpose—even if that gives The Donald something to crow about.

But the more interesting question is how Republicans will negotiate. Will they, for once, engage in a good faith policy discussion? Or will their main objective be an outcome that satisfies The Donald’s ego—and lets him “save face”?

Let us do a thought experiment. How would an amoral but politically rational Republican member of Congress decide on a negotiating strategy, given how things stand today?

I think there are several reasons why such an amoral Republican politician would choose the semblance of good faith negotiation over the objective of saving Trump’s ego.

In the first place, the consequence of bad faith negotiations would be that Nancy and Chuck would call them out and then stand pat, daring them to shut down the government again.

Secondly, as far as Donald Trump’s loss of face is concerned, that horse is already out the barn door.

Most importantly, what leverage do the Republicans have? There are only two theoretical threats they might carry out. One is a second shutdown, and the other is the “state of emergency.”

Politically speaking, if the first shutdown resulted in a big political win for Nancy and Chuck, imagine what a repeat would do for the political balance of power. (That’s assuming—as I hope I may assume—that the Democrats negotiate in good faith and are seen by rational people to be negotiating in good faith.)

And what about the other threat—the state of emergency? It’s a paper tiger. If Trump declares a state of emergency, he will either win or lose the inevitable court challenge.

If he wins—which is highly unlikely—a precedent will have been created for exploitation by the next Democratic president.

If he loses—if the Republican Supreme Court majority hands him his head on a silver platter—he and the Republicans will be in yet deeper doodoo.

In sum, my thought experiment leads me to conclude that doing the right thing is actually doing the expedient thing. I believe that’s true for both sides, but, most especially, for the Republican side.

In other words, like Tom Lehrer’s Old Dope Peddler, Republicans are in a position to do well by doing good.