Michael Leppert: GOP playing politics with border crisis


“Never let a good crisis go to waste,” is an adage that is widely attributed to Winston Churchill as the one who said it first. Crediting him with quotes like this is easy to do and difficult to disprove. It sounds like something he would say, right?

We know Rahm Emmanuel said it on November 19, 2008, in an interview with the Wall Street Journal, as then President-elect Barak Obama’s chief of staff. I have the video! His point was a crisis can often create “an opportunity to do things you think you could not do before.”

America’s southern border is in crisis. The intensity of it is as hot as it has ever been, though by my measure, there has never been a time in my life when it wasn’t a crisis. Also, by my measure, few Americans have even an elementary understanding of it, a sort of willful ignorance that allows recent politics to make sense.

On Jan. 25, all but one Republican governor in America issued a joint statement in support of Texas Gov. Greg Abbott in his battle with the federal government for authority he doesn’t have. Gov. Eric Holcomb joined the group, stating, “Because the Biden Administration has abdicated its constitutional compact duties to the states, Texas has every legal justification to protect the sovereignty of our states and our nation.”

Of course! Why shouldn’t Texas be able to defend itself when the federal government won’t? There’s language in the U.S. Constitution that specifically allows that, after all.

The answer: That’s not what the dispute is about.

As reported by Vox, the question is whether Texas may obtain a court order forbidding federal agents from cutting razor wire barriers the state installed when federal agents need to do so to perform their official duties.

In at least one instance, according to the Justice Department, an agent “saw an ‘unconscious subject floating on top of the water,’ but was ‘unable to retrieve or render aid to the subject due to the concertina wire barrier placed along the riverbank.’”

Border jurisdiction belongs to the federal government. The intervention and claim of authority by the state is incorrect, as affirmed by the U.S. Supreme Court in January. A fundamental reason the Department of Homeland Security sued Texas was that a body was found in the barriers the state had illegally placed on the border on Aug. 2.

“We reiterate the position of the Government of Mexico that the placement of barbed wire buoys by the Texas authorities is a violation of our sovereignty,” is the comment of our neighboring country to the south in response to the death, reported by the ABC affiliate in Houston.

I cannot state this more clearly: Texas doesn’t speak for me. Texas doesn’t speak for the United States. Yes, this crisis is far more intense for Texas than it is for most other states. But sorry, no version of the situation changes the law. Nor should it.

The only important work being done to get closer to a shared plan of action at the border is happening in the U.S. Senate right now. Sen. James Lankford (R-OK) and Sen. Chris Murphy (D-CT) are the lead negotiators.

Lankford has been censured by the Oklahoma Republican Party just for attempting to make progress on a deal. Let that sink in. They don’t want a solution. Any solution.

Performative press conferences, like the one on Jan. 9, where Sen. Mike Braun claimed the crisis has been “orchestrated” by the Biden administration, show the same sentiment. Braun is opposing “political maneuvering” to address the problem. His answer to the crisis can be summed up in one word: Trump.

And that is how we know Braun and Holcomb prefer the crisis to any solution. The anger about the border is more valuable to them than almost anything in the GOP “platform.” Without that anger, how will they energize their base in November?

In contrast, Indiana’s senior U.S. Senator, Todd Young, doesn’t want any “third parties” getting in the way of progress on a Senate deal. How refreshing.

True statesmen and stateswomen lean toward problem solving. But when a party’s platform is built on anger and grievance, solutions themselves become the enemy, no matter what form they take.

Churchill and Emmanuel might tell people like Braun that he is wasting this crisis. But they lived in a world where success was measured by what was delivered to their constituencies. Today’s GOP only sees these remedies to any problem: keeping people mad about it and blaming someone else for it.

Michael Leppert is an author, educator and a communication consultant in Indianapolis. He writes about government, politics and culture at MichaelLeppert.com. This commentary was previously published at indianacapitalchronicle.com. Send comments to [email protected].

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