- - Tuesday, February 19, 2019

There seems to be a general consensus among establishment politicians — Democrat and Republican — as well as the chattering class in the media that Donald Trump is crazy for declaring a national emergency over the congressional failure to fully fund his wall. I agree that he is crazy; crazy like a fox. The happy dancing among Democrats and the hand wringing among conservative Republicans is wildly premature.

Truth in advertising here, I voted for Mr. Trump as I’m a Republican and don’t like Hillary Clinton. I’ll likely vote for him again given the assortment of loons that the Democrats have to choose from. Nevertheless, I have disagreed with him in these pages on a number of issues — notably the announced Syrian withdrawal — but this is not one of them. Mr. Trump’s enemies among the Democrats and his erstwhile Republican allies in Congress have pushed him into a corner, and he has reacted with a good strategic ploy.

Perhaps more than any president in the last century, Mr. Trump has been relentless in attempting to keep his campaign promises, and building a wall was a big one. Whether or not it was a good idea in the first place is now irrelevant. Mr. Trump may not be an astute student of history, but he no doubt remembers President George H.W. Bush and “read my lips.” The far right of the conservative movement, particularly Ann Coulter, are quick to remind him of this. The Republican Party controlled both houses of Congress for two years and couldn’t get the measly $5.7 million Mr. Trump wanted for the wall. Now, like Tonto in the old Bill Cosby routine, Republicans in Congress are saying “what do you mean by we white man?”

Here is how this will play out. The Democrats will challenge the national emergency declaration and it will be held up in court for months — if not years. Given the short attention span of the news cycles, the wall issue will be ancient history by the end of the month. No matter how it plays out, when the ultra-conservatives bring the subject up as the next election cycle, the president will be able to honestly say that he did everything constitutionally possible to build the wall.

In reality, the best thing to happen for the president and conservatives alike would be for the judiciary, including the U.S. Supreme Court, to block the State of Emergency funding. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and nervous Nellie Republicans have pointed out that a future Democratic president would be able to use the same tactic to enforce tighter gun control measures in the future. A defeat for using national emergency measures as an end-around would set a legal precedent to prevent such future presidential over-reach.

In the interval, the president can use the Democrats’ own arguments to push for real improvements in border security, such as funding for advanced technology and hiring more law enforcement personnel along the border. It will also give him leverage to more aggressively get rid of the bad actors among the illegal immigrants who are already in the country. It would also assist the president in getting a sane compromise to the Dreamers problem; Rush Limbaugh has come up with a pragmatic solution to that problem. That is to allow law-abiding, taxpaying illegals to stay as permanent Green Card holders without voting citizenship. Conservatives could live with this as they are right in pointing out that the illegals represent millions of potential Democratic voters. It also removes the Democrats’ humanitarian argument that the Republicans are heartless.

The president needs to get beyond the wall issue for the next two years as he has too many other issues on his plate. He needs to put the Russia investigation to bed. The Democrats who want to see him impeached will continue to chip away at him in the House of Representatives and he doesn’t need more distractions. On the larger stage, he has some tremendous strategic opportunities that can be exploited if he is not distracted. North Korea, China and Venezuela present opportunities to deal with issues that have dogged us for years; Mr. Trump needs to make peace with his national security and intelligence officials to exploit these.

Mr. Trump showed savvy judgment in kicking this particular can down the road. The Democrats are in the process of destroying themselves over what color of pink they want to be in the next election. The president would be wise to let that be the big story.

• Gary Anderson lectures on Alternative Analysis at the George Washington University’s Elliott School for International Affairs.

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