Fight the Power Grab

Rule of Law by from National Review, November 17, 2014

In our more frustrated moments, those of us who still hope to forestall the constitutional crisis that President Obama’s executive action is almost certainly going to provoke will resign ourselves to showing rather than telling. Thwarted by the considerable difficulty of explaining constitutional and historical norms to an audience that is either too impatient to absorb the context or too self-interested to care about anything other than its own desires, the president’s opponents eventually resort to blunt and brutal threats of retaliation. “I can’t wait until President Cruz decides to reform the tax code on his own,” we muse darkly. “And imagine what will happen in 2017,” we add, “when a Republican executive tires of the stasis and simply refuses to enforce Obamacare.” For the more cynical among the progressive champions of what Ross Douthat has accurately described as “the will to power of this White House,” such prospects should rankle. If we can’t convince the vandals that Obama is entering “extraordinarily brazen territory,” our thinking goes, we can at least remind them that he is opening the door for his opponents to tear apart everything that they hold dear.

As a didactic exercise, this approach is all well and good. And yet, I have of late begun to see some on the Right treating the tactic as more than just idle levity or debaters’ flair. Rather, they have started to mean it. Sean Trende, who is among the most interesting and level-headed writers within the firmament, today proposed on Twitter that the Republican party’s “smart play on executive immigration is to shrug, then have a field day when they next get the presidency.” When I asked him for clarification, Trende told me that the system runs on “norms” and that, once broken, those norms are difficult to reinstate, and he therefore contended that Republicans should acknowledge the power grab and wait patiently until they can utilize it. “I think it is a horrifying precedent being set here,” Trende conceded, “but the die seems to be cast.” Ace of Spades’s Gabriel Malor, another man I hold in high regard, holds a similar view, often expressing excitement at the possibility that Republicans will eventually be able to take advantage of what he terms, cheerfully, “The Obama Rule.”

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