The all-Republican government that's failed to do easy things now will try a bunch of hard ones – all at the same time.
President Donald Trump and the GOP Congress return from vacation to a September gauntlet: assisting victims of Hurricane Harvey with emergency funding, keeping government open by agreeing on a 2018 budget, averting a credit crisis by raising the federal debt limit, protecting Americans' health care by shoring up Obamacare exchanges.
That doesn't even count their top priority – a once-in-a-generation overhaul of federal taxation. Tuesday, Trump tossed another boulder into lawmakers' backpacks by rescinding protections for immigrant "dreamers" and inviting Congress to act.
In theory, Republicans controlling both ends of Pennsylvania Avenue should be able to reach consensus on all of them. "We can walk and chew gum at the same time," says White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders.
In practice, however, the poor track record for recent Republican governance casts doubt. And Trump's behavior raises odds of failure on multiple fronts.
Republican struggles with governmental responsibility stem largely from reliance on a support base – disproportionately older, working-class whites – that grows more zealous as it shrinks in a rapidly-diversifying country. The conundrum predates Trump.
A decade ago, that GOP base sank comprehensive immigration reform backed by President George W. Bush and Republican Congressional leaders. It initially sank Wall Street bailout legislation until a stock market plunge frightened GOP lawmakers into acquiescence.
Under President Barack Obama, ferocious resistance by the GOP base helped Republicans recapture Congress. But it harmed their ability to govern, leaving leaders powerless to avoid a debt crisis and government shutdown.
The 2016 campaign worsened the problem. Discarding calls for outreach to minorities, Republican voters nominated the candidate who most amplified grievances by working-class whites. Lacking experience in government, Trump raised expectations about how easily his deal-making skills could resolve them.
The result: promises to rapidly implement a ban on travel from some majority-Muslim countries, reverse Obama's action protecting dreamers, start building a wall on the Mexican border, repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act, and pass tax reform by August.
None of them happened. In addition to GOP divisions, the government remains hobbled by an erratic chief executive who still hasn't nominated candidates for most senior administration posts.
Trump's action today made immigration the most likely fall failure. He prescribed no solution, instead deferring to lawmakers paralyzed by fear of the base he has inflamed. He tied a solution for the plight of dreamers to broader legislative goals – including the border wall.
He has similarly steepened the GOP's health care challenge. Even after the spectacular demise of repeal-and-replace legislation, the president has insisted on another try rather than back bipartisan efforts to stabilize the program he is responsible for administering.
The administration has sent multiple signals on raising the debt limit. To attract recalcitrant Republicans, Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin now wants Congress tie an increase to emergency Harvey spending.
But immediate resistance from conservatives suggests linkage could delay both measures. Trump and GOP leaders still need Democratic votes to raise the debt limit – as they will to raise defense spending beyond current legal caps. Big new spending commitments, including for Harvey, make it harder to unite Republicans around tax cuts.
The urgent fall scramble increases leverage for Congressional Democrats across the board. And it tightens the vise on Republican leaders obliged to muster legislative majorities.
The greatest threats to most GOP members remain primary challenges from the conservative base they share with Trump. But as overall political conditions deteriorate along with the president's ratings, a growing number fears the broader November electorate that will determine control of Congress in 2018.
Trump's response: taunting Republican leaders, an approach his spokeswoman repeated today in discussing the suddenly-uncertain fate of dreamers.
"If Congress doesn't want to do the job they were elected to do," Sanders said, "maybe they should get out of the way and let someone else do it."