Turns out, the worst thing that can happen to some conservative policies is for Americans to get a really good look at them.
Take Obamacare repeal. It was the cause that fueled the far right these past seven years. Conservatives seethed about the Affordable Care Act. Candidates won races talking tough about it. Enough of them won for Republicans to take control in Washington.
You know what happened next. Americans, including Republicans, decided they didn’t really want to lose Obamacare’s benefits. Republicans in Congress couldn’t pass a bill to repeal it. They couldn’t even pass a bill that kept most of Obamacare and repealed just a little bit.
Now we have DACA. For five years, a good many conservatives have stewed about the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program. They’ve called it amnesty, and they’ve called it unconstitutional, but instead of waiting for courts to rule on the latter, they called on Washington to kill the program.
On Tuesday they got their wish as Donald Trump sent out a giddy Attorney General, Jeff Sessions, to announce that DACA was being rescinded. Sessions gave the moment the full Breitbart treatment. He called Dreamers “illegal aliens.” He said without evidence that they took hundreds of thousands of jobs from Americans. He implied falsely they got all the same benefits as U.S. citizens.
It was the language and the moment many conservatives had waited for. What happened next? In Washington, Republicans slapped down Trump and Sessions by declaring that Dreamers needed to be protected. Religious leaders, including those who supported Trump, spoke out against it. Business leaders were especially defiant, vowing to defend and protect Dreamers from government action.
By Wednesday, Trump was in full backpedal, calling for Congress to “legalize” DACA. By Thursday he was sending reassuring tweets to Dreamers.
Now, Congress is approaching a crossroads on immigration – same as it did on health care. With each, conservatives have been spoiling for a fight, but with each, they are finding public opinion is in a different place than it was even five years ago.
A clear majority of Americans now say immigration strengthens the country, and they want a path for legal status for undocumented immigrants rather than deportation. Add in those religious and business leaders, and you have a critical mass that has at least some in Congress taking notice. It’s no mistake that one of the first proposals to save Dreamers came from N.C. Sen. Thom Tillis, a Republican who could have a tough reelection fight in 2020.
No, this is not some great shift leftward for the country. There are plenty of battles ahead against those who want to steer us too far right. But some of the policies Trump’s opponents dreaded most – the Muslim ban, Obamacare repeal, immigration – have been moderated by fellow Republicans, the courts and, importantly, the public. The same has happened to the worst of Trump’s supporters – the white supremacists who have been shoved back to the fringes after Charlottesville.
We have always been a country of pendulum swings – from left to right, hawkish to dovish, tightly regulated to more freewheeling. But we’ve never allowed those swings to go too far, for too long. That’s still the case, even with this volatile president. It’s the best kind of checks and balances we have.