By Bruce E. Cain for The American Interest
In some idealized version of party democracy, candidates campaign in support of policies that can both get them elected and solve real problems. In theory, the goals of winning elections and governing effectively should be symbiotic. But that is not the political universe we live in. Instead, candidates all too often say what they must in order to get elected without worrying much about the consequences for governing.
The disjuncture between campaign rhetoric and governing realities is nowhere starker than in the domain of immigration policy. President Trump ran on a platform of building out the existing wall along the Mexican border and getting Mexico to pay for it. The crowds at his rallies cheered enthusiastically for this even though prominent Mexican politicians made it very clear from the outset that they would never pick up the tab.
Once in office, President Trump had to figure out how to get Americans, not Mexicans, to pay for his wall. When the lengthy government shutdown did not convince the Congress to give the President the funding amount he wanted, Donald Trump invoked the National Emergencies Act of 1976 to redirect money from other authorized programs to pay for his new wall construction. The President now has to hope that he has enough support from his own party to sustain a veto over any Congressional effort to reassert its constitutionally mandated authority over the public purse.
All of this brouhaha is the result of President Trump’s dogged determination to deliver on a promise made in the heat of campaign rallies at a time when he apparently did not think he was going to win. In the meantime, those Central American refugee caravans he warned about repeatedly were effectively stopped at the border without additional barriers, most illicit drugs still come in through legal ports, the flow of Mexican undocumented workers across the border remains historically low, and the troops the President called to duty are only clearing brush. The President wants to fortify the southern but not the northern border even though the number of Canadians who overstay their visas far exceeds all other countries, including Mexico. Who or what will protect us from all those undocumented Canadians?
Despite numerous past efforts, no policy to date has resolved our border issues to the satisfaction of either political party: not the Immigration Reform and Control Act of 1986 (IRCA), the Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act of 1996, the Real ID Act of 2005, or Obama’s 2012 DACA executive action. The reason is easy to explain. You cannot solve a problem until you agree on the desired outcome. And Americans cannot do that because they have multiple and conflicting immigration goals.
Bruce E. Cain is a professor of political science at Stanford University and author of “Democracy More or Less.”