In the latest episode of America’s Most Embarrassing President, Chuck and Nancy go to the White House to break bread — actually noodles — with Amnesty Don, Dreamers get a reprieve, Paul Ryan’s hangdog face gets even hang-doggier and Ann Coulter’s head explodes.
Not a bad episode all in all, but one that has the pundits, Trumpologists and White House press team in a dither (a word rarely used since America Was Great The First Time).
I don’t think we need a spoiler alert here. Everyone knows what happened. Over Chinese food, Chuck and Nancy and Amnesty Don agreed to a scheme in which the Dreamers would get full protection under the law and a road to citizenship while the shocked Trump loyalists and Breitbartians and alt-rightists and Tancredistas would get nothing in return other than a few border-security throw-ins. The biggest nothing was, of course, the absence of the border wall, which, depending on your understanding, is either a metaphor or a $25 billion delusion.
The White House press team, with a few assists from Twitter Don himself, jumped in with a, uh, range of explanations. The first was that a path to citizenship for Dreamers can’t be amnesty because Donald Trump doesn’t believe in amnesty. The second was that Trump didn’t cave on the border wall because eventually there will be a big and beautiful wall and someone, maybe not Mexico, will pay for it. Meanwhile, we’re doing beautiful renovations on the current wall, which is definitely not a fence and probably not a metaphor, whatever that means.
In other words, granting amnesty is not granting amnesty and not building a wall is building a wall. George Orwell, call your office.
So, we know what Trump did. What we don’t know is exactly why he did it or what it means for Trump’s anti-illegal-immigrant, often-anti-legal-immigrant, definitely-pro-wall base.
I think the why is easy.
Trump wanted to stick it to Paul Ryan, Mitch McConnell and the Republicans who have embarrassed him by not passing any of his no-signature legislation. He also got to stick it to Jeff Sessions, whom he apparently just enjoys humiliating. This is vintage, straight-on Trump vindictiveness. I mean, he gets a DACA deal in eight minutes over dinner with Democrats while Republicans can’t repeal Obamacare in eight months. And as a bonus, it’s a warning, too, to Republicans: If you don’t stop me now, there’s no telling where I’ll go.
It’s sort of the same strategy he’s using with North Korea, the main difference being that Mitch McConnell doesn’t have any nukes. And who can even guess what Trump might do next — join Bernie Sanders on single-payer? Admit that his voter-fraud panel is the real fraud? Figure out something for Ivanka to do other than walk in to signal the end of meetings?
Or he could just admit that Schumer and Pelosi had played him and that when he made the agreement, he didn’t understand the difference between citizenship and legal residence. As he told reporters on his trip to Florida, he wasn’t looking at citizenship at all. There’s a question now, as the New Yorker’s Ryan Lizza points out, whether the deal will actually hold up.
OK, as Democrats were laughing and Chuck Schumer was caught on a hot mic saying that “He likes us. He likes me, anyway,” Coulter was calling for impeachment, Breitbart had pinned Amnesty Don on Trump and Tom Tancredo was asking people whether he should run for governor. (Tom: Yes, please. For me.) Even Sean Hannity came very near to criticizing Trump before, finally, coming to the conclusion that it wasn’t Trump’s fault. He blamed it instead on congressional Republicans, who, he tweeted, “wanted him to fail and now pushed him into arms of political suicide—IF TRUE.”
But does this mean that Iowa congressman Steve “Calves the Size of Cantaloupes” King is right that the base won’t stand for this? My first instinct is to guess that, as in all things, King is wrong. But in this case, it’s not a sure thing.
If there’s anything we’ve learned about the base is that the base, which makes up most of Trump’s support at this point, is loyal. And if there’s anything we know about Trump, who has taken about a dozen different positions on DACA, it’s that he’ll feed the base whatever he has to, even if it means directly contradicting whatever he has just said, to maintain that loyalty. The theory here, along the lines of whether to take Trump seriously or literally, is that the base is much more concerned about what Trump says, or tweets, than what he does.
Which is why Trump was all over Twitter Friday morning, jumping on an apparent terrorist attack in London by calling it terrorism before the British did, embarrassing Prime Minister Teresa May in the process, and then slamming Scotland Yard, as Trump tweeted that the London police had had the “loser terrorist …in its sights” and needed to be “proactive.” Remember when Trump said about Charlottesville that he needed to know the facts before speaking?
He followed that with advocating for his “travel ban,” tweeting: “The travel ban into the United States should be far larger, tougher and more specific —but stupidly that would not be politically correct!”
That’s the pre-Dreamer Trump in top form, even calling on his old pal, political correctness. It’s not the Amnesty Don who had tweeted the morning after his stunning agreement, “Does anybody really want to throw out good, educated and accomplished young people who have jobs, some serving in the military? Really!…..”
Yes, really. Millions of them, apparently. And most of them voted for No-Amnesty Don, leaving Trump in yet another fix. Which, I believe, is where this episode began.