A new NPR/PBS NewsHour/Marist poll reports that by a huge 61-to-36 percent margin, voters disapprove of using an emergency declaration to build President Trump’s wall, including 63 percent of independents. Furthermore, “60 percent think his decision should be challenged in the courts, including 60 percent of independents. . . . 58 percent do not think there is a national emergency at the border.” Fifty-seven percent consider this a misuse of presidential power.
However, Trump’s base seems to have embraced modern-day Caesarism. If the leader says a wall is needed, it is needed. If the leader says the lawsuits are filed by “open border” radicals (not 16 states), it must be so. And whatever Caesar . . . er . . . Trump says is legal is legal. Hence, 84 percent of Republicans and 90 percent of Trump supporters agree that there is a national emergency, Meanwhile, 80 percent don’t think he is abusing power.
This cultish loyalty to Trump explains the hesitation of Republican lawmakers who are “concerned” or “troubled by the precedent” actually to cast a vote for the resolution to end the emergency declaration. While this vote might be the defining moment for them and the Republican Party — wherein they can declare country and Constitution matter more than loyalty to Trump — don’t be surprised if relatively few Republicans cast votes against the president.
What about Sen. Ted Cruz’s (R-Tex.) reverence for separation of powers, Sen Rand Paul’s (R-Ky.) devotion to limits on executive power, Sen. John Cornyn’s (R-Tex.) attachment to the rule of law, Sen. Lindsey O. Graham’s (R-S.C.) championing of impeachment for an out-of-control president, Sen. Ben Sasse’s (R-Neb.) professed love for the Constitution, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s (R-Ky.) self-description as a constitutional conservative, Sen. Charles E. Grassley’s (R-Iowa) insistence on sticking to the letter of the Constitution, Sen. Mike Lee’s (R-Utah) fetish of originalism, and all the other Republicans and conservatives in Congress and in the media who excoriated President Barack Obama for enacting Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals without congressional approval? Mark my words: A bunch of those people will bless Trump’s power grab. Indeed, McConnell, Lee and Graham already have. Trump’s assault on the separation of powers will be supported by the very people from whom he is snatching power.
Ironically, it is the lawsuit against Trump in which 16 states with a Democratic governor (except for Maryland, which has a Democratic attorney general) recite the basic principles of the Constitution. “The Congress made clear its intent that it was not appropriating any funding toward construction of a wall.” (pg. 28).
As a result, they allege:
Defendants have violated the United States Constitution’s separation of powers doctrine by taking executive action to fund a border wall for which Congress has refused to appropriate funding. The 2019 Appropriations Act is an explicit denial of the President’s requested funding for a border wall. Defendants have further violated the separation of powers doctrine—specifically the Presentment Clause—by unilaterally diverting funding that Congress already appropriated for other purposes to fund a border wall for which Congress has provided no appropriations. . . . Congress has not authorized or appropriated the funding that President Trump has declared he will use towards the construction of a border wall. Defendants have therefore violated the Appropriations Clause by funding construction of the border wall with funds that were not appropriated for that purpose.
Now, that’s the sort of argument Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. or Justice Neil M. Gorsuch could appreciate. It’s one Republicans would make if Obama were in the White House.
For years now, Republicans have argued that voters themselves revere the Constitution, so presidential power grabs are not just constitutionally offensive but also politically dumb. Well, it turns out they were right. Voters do appreciate the Constitution. It’s the Republican Party that doesn’t.
Trump’s GOP has traded in constitutional democracy for Caesarism, limited government for an unlimited executive, and the rule of law for rule by tweet. What a shabby performance — and reason enough for the party to be crushed at the polls. To vindicate the Constitution increasingly seems to require destroying the Republican Party.