For Republicans, chaos is the point

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What a hoot it was – hoot is the mildest word I can conjure – to hear House Speaker Mike Johnson insist on “Meet the Press” that he is master of his domain. When asked whether America’s most detestable criminal defendant is pulling his strings, Johnson said: “He’s not calling the shots. I am calling the shots.”

Permit me to fact check. Johnson’s head is so far up Trump’s rear, he can smell Putin.

Right-wing Republicans have squawked since forever that the only way to save this country from being overrun by non-white immigrants is to enact tough enforcement at the southern border. But now that they’ve finally gotten what they’ve always professed to want – a bipartisan Senate bill, with President Biden moving rightward in the spirit of compromise – Johnson and the rest of his MAGA misfits are decreeing that the whole package is DOA in the House.

These denizens of Dysfunction Junction have no interest in governance. They’re performance artists in thrall to a contemporary Caligula who wants to bang on the border crisis as a campaign issue. Trump has spoken “at length” with Johnson, his House pet, about the border crisis (we know this because those quoted words are Johnson’s), and Trump has made it crystal clear that if the House were to vote for an actual solution, and that if Biden were to sign that actual solution, Trump would lose one of his favorite demagogic weapons.

Far better, in other words, to sabotage a set of hawkish solutions that Republicans have long wanted – billions of bucks to increase border staff, beefed up anti-fentanyl trafficking, far tougher standards that asylum seekers must meet in order to stay in America, emergency provisions that would allow the feds to shut down the border, and much more.

Conservative commentator David Frum calls it “a border hawk’s dream bill, plus frosting and candles…Republicans will never get a better bill than this. If they say No now, they are saying they prefer border chaos.”

But chaos is precisely the point. That and fear-mongering. That’s how Trump got traction in 2016, and he needs to recycle those toxic elements now, to scare people and thus distract from his 91 felony counts. (Indeed, he has already lost the economy as an issue; he’s been openly rooting for it to fail, but the rebound has foiled him.) Besides, he’d prefer an ongoing border crisis than Biden getting credit for alleviating it.

Plus, by sabotaging the border solution bill, servile Mike Johnson helps Trump serve his master in Moscow. The package includes $60 billion for Ukraine, which badly needs American aid as the second anniversary of the war draws near. There’s no better way for Trump to signal his continued gratitude for Putin’s 2016 electoral help than to undercut Ukraine’s existential fight for freedom. If that sickens our western allies, and sows more distrust of America’s resolve, so be it.

For months, the House GOP’s mantra was: “We’ll pony up money for Ukraine, but only if we get tough on the border.” Now comes a massive package that gets tough on the border…and the House GOP pulls a fast one: “Never mind what we said before, we still don’t wanna send money to Ukraine.” And, naturally, this switcheroo echoes the whims of their sun god, who tweeted today that a border bill “should not be tied to foreign aid in any way, shape or form!”

Axios, the news website, reporting on the Trump-Johnson sabotage of the border package, suggested that their behavior could backfire: “It’s a new risk (for Republicans) in November, if voters decide they can’t govern.” But that will (and should) happen only if a sufficient share of voters pay attention in the first place.

In 1948 Harry Truman won an election that everyone assumed he’d lose because he stumped successfully against the “do-nothing Republican Congress.” Joe Biden might want to give that a try.

Copyright 2024 Dick Polman, distributed exclusively by Cagle Cartoons newspaper syndicate.

Dick Polman, a veteran national political columnist based in Philadelphia and a Writer in Residence at the University of Pennsylvania, writes at Email him at [email protected]

Cited by the Columbia Journalism Review website as one of the nation's top political scribes, and by ABC News' online political tip sheet as "one of the finest political journalists of his generation, " Dick Polman is the national political columnist at Philadlephia NPR affiliate WHYY, and has covered or chronicled every presidential campaign since 1988.

A Philadelphia resident, Dick roamed the country for most of his 22 years at The Philadelphia Inquirer. He has been blogging daily since 2006. He's currently on the full-time faculty at the University of Pennsylvania, as "Writer in Residence." He has been a frequent guest on C-SPAN, CNN, MSNBC, the BBC, and various NPR shows - most notably Philadelphia's "Radio Times" on WHYY-FM.