(Saul Loeb/AFP)
Opinion writer

THE MORNING PLUM:

In certain ways, the battle over the “dreamers” perfectly captures what has become of the Trump-era GOP. House Speaker Paul D. Ryan (R-Wis.) had dramatically promised that President Trump and Republicans will work to create a way for these young immigrants to stay in the United States, as part of an effort to nudge the party toward an inclusive, aspirational conservatism that has more appeal to younger voters and to a diversifying electorate.

But Trump and many Republicans have instead embraced an agenda shaped around emphatic, full-blown nativism and xenophobia, bringing that push (such as it was) to a screeching halt. Neatly capturing this, social media is exploding over Trump’s suggestion yesterday (though the context makes it somewhat vague) that some of the immigrants he’s deporting are “animals.”

We are now being treated to a striking spectacle: Ryan and his top lieutenants are working overtime to squash an effort by Republicans to force a vote in the House to provide the dreamers with a path to legalization.

Vulnerable Republicans in the House are pushing a discharge petition that would compel a vote on measures that would grant the dreamers legal status, one of them packaged with fortifications to border security. More than 20 Republicans have signed the petition, meaning that if organizers can get a handful more, it would pass, since Democrats will support it — forcing a full House vote on whether the dreamers will be protected or remain in limbo. Make no mistake: Such a full vote — on a measure legalizing the dreamers in exchange for border security — probably would be successful.

Why don’t GOP leaders want this vote? Apparently because allowing these young immigrants who were brought here as children through no fault of their own to get right with the law, and work and study in America, would depress the conservative base. The Post reports that GOP leaders are delivering this stark message to the rank and file:

Signing the discharge petition and paving the way for passage of a moderate immigration bill could hurt Republicans in November’s elections by depressing conservative turnout and upending leadership’s plans to focus on tax cuts and other GOP successes.

The thinking appears to be that it will turn off the base if Republicans protect the dreamers with the help of Democrats without securing other draconian immigration measures, such as the wall Trump wants.

Driving this appears to be a hard-headed calculation about demographics. Ron Brownstein reports that House Republicans are basically betting their majority on a “generational” gamble:

The Republican bet is that the party can mobilize elevated turnout among their older and blue-collar white base without provoking the young and racially diverse voters who personify the emerging next America to show up on Election Day to defend it. Few things are likely to shape November’s outcome more than whether that bet pays off.

Most indications are that congressional Republicans are genuinely divided on immigration, with many supporting evolution on the issue while many others either don’t want to act or are in sync with Trump’s views. As Brownstein notes, polls show that large majorities of older white voters agree with Trump on most issues, and because Trump is pulling the GOP in a “nativist” direction, this is prioritizing the views of that latter camp.

Of course, the story that recent elections have told is that Trump’s racism and cruel xenophobic agenda have unleashed a massive backlash on the other side of that cultural divide, among young voters, nonwhites and college-educated non-elderly white voters, mostly suburbanites and women, swamping the GOP electorate all over the place. Indeed, it’s telling that vulnerable Republicans want to take action to protect the dreamers, distancing them from Trumpism. Numerous Republicans who signed the discharge petition are in districts that are very much in play.

But Ryan and GOP leaders seem to be betting that if they can keep the aging white Trumpist base energized — while hoping that the anti-Trump backlash subsides just enough among voters on the other side of the divide — they’ll barely hold their majority. So Ryan is in search of the magic solution that will protect the dreamers (giving his vulnerable members some support) while also securing the concessions that Trump wants, so he will sign the bill (preventing Trump voters from staying home).

But here’s the problem: There isn’t any immigration compromise that can pass Congress that Trump would sign. Trump has been adamant that he wants deep cuts to legal immigration and his mighty wall as part of any deal. The immigration proposal Trump wants got the fewest Senate votes of any of the proposals that failed earlier this year. Let’s face it: The president doesn’t want to take in people from “shithole countries“; he just screamed at his homeland security chief for failing to “close down” the border; and, now, he has said at least some of the people he’s deporting are “animals.” Does that sound like a guy who will sign a bill that can pass Congress?

As Brownstein says, the GOP majority will hinge on whether Trump can “succeed in mobilizing high levels of turnout in November from those anxious voters resistant to the changing America,” even as the intensity drops off among the younger, diverse, educated electorate that has driven Democratic wins up until now. As the GOP’s dreamer mess shows, Republicans appear locked into that gamble.

* TRUMP IS ‘DISTRACTED’ BY LEGAL ISSUES: North Korea has threatened to scuttle the planned summit in part over John Bolton’s chest-thumping, prompting mixed messages in response from the White House. The New York Times reports:

People close to the White House said the scattershot nature of the messages on North Korea reflected the newness of the president’s national security team, but also the fact that Mr. Trump was distracted by the swirl of legal issues around him, from the Russia investigation to the payments made by his personal lawyer, Michael D. Cohen … Some suggested that Mr. Trump needed to rein in [John] Bolton.

The combination of Bolton and a distracted and easily manipulated Trump does not inspire confidence.

* ON NORTH KOREA, TRUMP PUTS SHOWMANSHIP FIRST: The Post reports that foreign policy experts worry that Trump’s desire to put on a good show could make it easier for North Korea to manipulate him:

Critics fear that a president determined to declare victory where his predecessors failed will allow his desire for a legacy-making deal to override the substance of the negotiations. … Critics said Trump, enamored with his own handiwork, has focused too heavily on shaping the public narrative ahead of the summit and trying to set the stage for a political victory.

Trump will probably end up trying for a narrower deal in hopes of proclaiming it the greatest diplomatic breakthrough in human history.

* REPUBLICANS FRET ABOUT PENNSYLVANIA: David Drucker reports that Republicans are worried that Rep. Lou Barletta, the GOP Senate candidate in Pennsylvania, is blowing a big race:

The congressman is taking fire from Republicans at home and in Washington who worried that he is relying too much on the president to boost his flagging Senate bid. Barletta has been a disappointing fundraiser and been too slow to ramp up a capable statewide campaign operation, his critics charge.

Wait, so Trump’s awesome popularity in Pennsylvania isn’t enough to get it done? For Democrats, holding as many seats in Trump states as possible will be critical to any shot at winning the Senate.

* REPUBLICANS HOPE MUELLER GIVES THEM A BOOST: Fox News reports that Republican candidates and strategists are increasingly hoping that the Mueller probe juices the base for the midterm elections:

Candidates in some GOP primaries this year already have worked to woo Trump supporters by arguing it’s time to end the Russia probe. Other Republicans are likely to follow suit amid a sense of Mueller investigation fatigue. “I think you could see others embrace that messaging because the states that are up in 2018 on the Senate side are super red,” one Republican strategist involved in the midterms told Fox News.

If Trump tries to shut down the investigation, of course, all these candidates will rally behind him. Remember when the tax bill was going to be the GOP’s savior?

* THE DEMOCRATIC ROUTE TO A HOUSE MAJORITY: Sabato’s Crystal Ball offers a useful roadmap for how Democrats might win the House, mainly by winning the open seats and picking up seats in Pennsylvania, California and New York. Overall:

Some district-level indicators are a little brighter for Democrats … The playing field [has gotten] bigger. Back in February, we listed 65 GOP House seats in a competitive (non-Safe) category. We now list 86. … there’s been some subtle movement toward the Democrats, but not enough to significantly alter our overall assessment of a coin flip battle for the House.

This is still anything but a lock for Democrats, but for all the talk about Trump’s “rising” approval, this analysis suggests that Democrats’ chances have, if anything, improved a bit.

* DEMOCRATIC WOMEN ARE WINNING PRIMARIES: The New York Times tallies it up and finds that 60 women have won House primaries so far, and 52 of them are Democrats. But:

Of the 52 Democrats who have won their primaries, 34 are in districts that are considered solid or likely Republican seats in the general election in November … More than half of the women who have won primaries so far — 33 out of 60 — will be challenging an incumbent in the fall.

So there are plenty of hurdles, but it still seems likely that a lot of new members next year will be women.

* NO, DEMOCRATS ARE NOT TOO OBSESSED WITH TRUMP: E.J. Dionne Jr. sets the record straight by pointing out that Democrats are not actually campaigning on “I’m not Trump,” and instead are emphasizing health care and the economy:

Understanding 2018 requires accepting that the news cycle is not the same as the campaign cycle and that all elections involve a mix of mobilization and persuasion. The intense dislike of Trump means that mobilization will play an especially large role this year. But few Democrats … are counting on animosity to the president to do all their work for them.

As Dionne notes, Democrats are focused on issues to win over moderates and independents, in the knowledge that the seething anger at Trump will energize the base on its own.