I supported the House-passed $5.7 billion funding-level for border security as a starting point for negotiating with the Senate and the President. My hope is that a compromise will be reached that will avoid a shutdown.
— Rep. Mike Coffman (@RepMikeCoffman) December 21, 2018
With the impasse over President Donald Trump’s demand for $5 billion in funding for a wall along the southern U.S. border having resulted in a partial shutdown of the federal government over the Christmas holiday and potentially beyond, let’s take a few minutes to discuss the vote of lame-duck GOP Rep. Mike Coffman to give Trump his wall funding–in particular what it says about Coffman’s career in the U.S. House and his defeat this November.
Mike Coffman was originally elected to succeed retiring Rep. Tom Tancredo in Colorado’s CD-6. At this time, CD-6 was an extremely safe Republican seat representing the southern Denver suburbs and conservative Douglas County, a district not just untroubled but supportive of the anti-immigrant hard line politics that remain Tancredo’s calling card. Tancredo may have been persona non grata in the Bush White House, but he developed a base of support that he leveraged into a vanity campaign for President that further raised Tancredo’s name ID.
Succeeding Tancredo, Coffman originally strained to present as fierce an anti-immigrant image as his predecessor, telling immigrant voters to “pull out a dictionary” and claiming “the DREAM Act will be a nightmare for the American people.” Coffman had fought a nasty primary to win his seat, and in this district had an obligation to show the flag with vigor to stave off another in 2010.
All of this changed in 2011, when the redistricting process transformed CD-6 from Tom Tancredo’s stronghold into a district comprised of almost 20% Latino voters. CD-6 never again voted for a Republican candidate in presidential races, and was in fact carried in 2016 by Hillary Clinton by a substantial margin. In 2012, Coffman barely survived re-election against an underfunded Democratic challenger, a lucky break given him by Democrats who were slow to capitalize on the opportunity.
After 2012, Coffman set to work remaking his image on immigration. He did this primarily through paying lip service to accommodating the children of immigrants who arrived here with no agency in the decision to migrate, the same DREAMers he had previously maligned. With Republicans in control under a Democratic President, gridlock on immigration along with basically everything else ensued, and when Coffman thumbed his nose at the Senate’s 2013 attempt at immigration reform it somehow didn’t undermine his new credentials with the local media as a “moderate on immigration.”
Because for all the credit Coffman received for not being part of the problem on immigration, his actual policy proposals never matched up. Coffman’s centerpiece legislation to give undocumented immigrants who serve in the military legal status was a niche bill that wouldn’t solve most of the problem, and Coffman’s support for a “clean” DREAM Act, after opposing President Obama’s DACA program for years, came far too late to make a difference. Beyond that, Coffman simply hid behind the gridlock caused by Republican leadership he voted for.
This year, Coffman’s unlikely run of victories in a district that elected Democrats above and below him on the ballot came to an end. Donald Trump’s presidency exposed Coffman’s triangulation strategy as fraudulent, when Coffman was forced to toe the pro-Trump line to appease his own base while simultaneously trying to maintain a facade of “moderation” for the swing voters he needed to overcome the district’s natural propensity to elect Democrats. It’s didn’t work, and Coffman lost by the margin he arguably could have lost by in 2012, 2014, or 2016.
And so this week, when defeated Rep. Coffman voted to build Trump’s wall, all he did was dispense with a pretense that had outlived its usefulness. To the reporters he tricked into validating credentials on immigration Coffman did not deserve, and the pro-immigrant activists and Democratic lawmakers who he likewise used for undeserved cover, it’s a final round of insulting confirmation of the long con game Coffman played to their and the voting public’s detriment.
But there is one consolation. It’s just about over.