The Plum Line | Opinion
September 15, 2017 at 10:48 AM
THE MORNING PLUM:
With the chatter intensifying about the possibility of President Trump cutting a deal to protect the "dreamers," The Post reports today that his loudest supporters are in a fury. They are warning that "the base" will desert him if he commits such a massive betrayal.
But the Post report also tells us something else: His top supporters are letting the mask slip and revealing doubts about whether this will actually end up happening. And this underscores why this moment is so important. Hopefully, it will shed much-needed light on the true nature of Trump's nationalist appeal to a large swath of the American public — and how deep the ugly side of that appeal really runs.
The most vocal immigration hard-liners who backed Trump in the media and Congress — people such as Ann Coulter, Rep. Steve King (R-Iowa), and Stephen K. Bannon and his merry Breitbart warriors — are warning Trump that his voters won't tolerate it if he agrees to legislative protections for hundreds of thousands of people brought here illegally as children, as part of a deal with Dems. But the Post report shows appropriate skepticism toward this notion, and tells us this:
Yet the lasting political cost of Trump's engagement with top Democrats on immigration remained ambiguous. While Coulter and others vented, several conservative leaders Thursday remained hesitant about breaking with the president publicly given his continued grass-roots support and their desire to focus Republican ire on the leadership in Congress.
"The jury is still out on whether the base starts to leave him. And I'm not sure what the truth is," Rep. Steve King (R-Iowa) said in an interview. "If this stands and we end up with amnesty, the base that was pulled together because of immigration will start to peel off in significant ways."
But, King added, "No one is quite sure about how this will play out and whether it's truly what we worry it'll be."
That is a striking admission: Trump's top supporters — and, heck, the rest of us — simply don't know whether Trump voters will be alienated by a deal protecting the dreamers. They might stick with him if he blesses such a deal, particularly (as I've suggested) if it's packaged with increased border security.
It is often pointed out that the press is overly obsessed with what Trump voters think. That's true. But in this case, it's worth some attention. If it turns out to be true that Trump voters will accept a deal protecting the dreamers, that would suggest that Trump's nationalism — as defined by the likes of Bannon, Breitbart, White House adviser Stephen Miller and the rest of the "populist economic nationalist" contingent around Trump — might not have quite the pull with his voters that we thought. This is clearly what King and others fear — and for good reason.
Remember, when Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced that Trump would rescind protections for the dreamers, he conspicuously claimed these "illegal aliens" steal jobs from American workers. Bannon has come out for getting them to "self deport." Miller is privately scheming to undercut any deal to protect them. The "populist economic nationalist" contingent constantly pushes the line that undocumented immigrants are a destructive, invasive, criminal presence — the dreamers included. But Trump yesterday undercut this narrative by tweeting that the dreamers are blameless for their plight and are making positive contributions to American life. What if a lot of Trump voters end up agreeing with him? That's bad news for the populist-economic-nationalist-snake-oil purveyors.
Will Wilkinson argues that protecting the dreamers shouldn't actually be at odds with populist nationalism, because the dreamers are culturally American, and keeping them here does not undermine the nationalist contingent's vision of cultural nationality. Wilkinson theorizes that those screaming about this deal are really trying to induce Trump to insist on other draconian measures as part of it. That is true: The motive here is also to get poison pills inserted into any deal, driving away Dems and killing it.
But if Trump were to agree to a deal that is not loaded up with a lot of hateful nonsense, and many of his voters supported it, that would not be insignificant. MSNBC's Chris Hayes argues that, even if you accept Trump's victory as fundamentally an assertion of white nationalism, if he, the white guy who is in charge, makes the deals protecting the dreamers, his voters might be fine with it. This would still have horrible implications. But at least it would mean there is not widespread support for carrying out this nationalist agenda by inflicting a humanitarian disaster on this particular vulnerable group, i.e., the dreamers.
That is not what Bannon and his fellow travelers want you to believe. They want you to believe the country is cheering on the enactment of that nationalist agenda and that the only ones objecting are squeamish "elites." Put it this way: If Bannon is correct and there is widespread support for a nationalism that includes inducing hundreds of thousands of young people who were brought here through no fault of their own to return to countries they don't even know, then surely all of the primary challengers to GOP Senate incumbents he intends to back will run on that, right?
To be sure, even if there is a deal on the dreamers that Trump voters accept, all of his other horrors would still be proceeding apace: The veiled Muslim ban, the mass deportations, the refusal to unambiguously condemn white supremacy and so forth. And it's true that this could end up buttressing little more than a dangerous notion of the dreamers being "different" from the rest of the otherwise law-abiding undocumented immigrants. But if Trump ends up talking his voters out of inflicting this one cruel, disastrous outcome on this one large population, at least we know such a thing is possible.
* McCONNELL WANTS TRUMP TO TAKE LEAD ON DREAMERS: The New York Times reports that Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) is privately happy that Trump is out front proposing a deal with Democrats to protect the dreamers:
Leaving the issue in Mr. Trump's hands could prove beneficial for Republicans, ridding them of a difficult job. A person familiar with the discussions said Mr. McConnell welcomed Mr. Trump being the Republicans' point man on immigration.
The theory appears to be that if Trump blesses a deal, Republicans might take less heat from Trump voters for "selling out" on immigration. That seems plausible: Trump voters may well follow his lead.
* MANY STICKING POINTS REMAIN ON DREAMERS: CNN's Tal Kopan has a good overview of the many difficult issues that must be resolved in creating a legislative solution for the dreamers. Among them: Do they get legalization or merely continued work permits and protection from deportation? Can Republicans agree to a deal that includes border security money but not more interior enforcement and removals, something Dems would reject?
On that last one, as I noted yesterday, the key dividing line might be this: Dems can accept more spending on border security but not a deal that results in increased deportations or self-deportations.
* WHY THE DREAMERS COULD SPLIT THE GOP: The Washington Examiner reports that many Republicans privately worry that Trump's push to protect the dreamers could split the party. Here's why:
Battleground senators and House members who represent ethnically and politically diverse communities stand to benefit in the midterm from Trump's DACA deal. They could also suffer at the ballot box if the negotiations collapse and participants in the program are threatened with deportation. [But] in safe Republican districts, voters tend to be more homogenous, and more circumspect, on immigration matters.
Wait, some Republicans might politically benefit from doing the right thing on this issue? Impossible!
* STEPHEN MILLER IS VERY UPSET ABOUT TRUMP AND DREAMERS: Politico reports that top adviser Miller is very unhappy indeed:
Miller, an architect of Trump's hard-line immigration policies, expressed displeasure about the development to other White House and legislative aides and strategized about what to do next, according to people familiar with the calls.
Hmm. What will they do now? Here's a guess. They will try to put poison pills into any emerging deal that make it impossible for Dems to support it, possibly killing it.
* JOHN KELLY SAYS MEXICO IS ON VERGE OF COLLAPSE: During the private meeting between Trump and Dem leaders at which a tentative deal on the dreamers was struck, Chief of Staff John Kelly weighed in, saying we need much more robust border security:
He likened Mexico, one of the United States' most important trading and law enforcement partners, to Venezuela under the regime of Hugo Chávez, the former leader, suggesting it was on the verge of a collapse that would have repercussions in the United States, according to two people who attended the meeting.
That should help in getting Mexico to pay for Trump's wall.
* SOMETIMES LIES ACTUALLY DO MATTER: Paul Krugman points out that Trump lied his way into the White House and Republicans won Congress in part by lying about Obamacare, but as repeal's failure shows, lies can only get you so far:
The story of tax reform … is starting to look a bit similar. During the campaign Trump could get away with posing as an economic populist while offering a tax plan that would add $6 trillion to the deficit, with half the benefit going to the richest 1 percent of the population. But this kind of bait-and-switch may not work once an actual bill is on the table.
One can only hope. And you'd think it might matter that the American people have already been exposed for decades to the lies used to sell tax cuts for the rich.