But don’t be fooled — it is likely that this is mostly a bait and switch.
Surely the notion that taxpayers will fund the wall (which very well could get built) is a political problem for Trump, and this partly explains his reaction today. But here’s the more important point: The debate over the wall is mostly a distraction. Trump’s Great Mexican Wall is not where the big ideologically charged battles over immigration during the Trump presidency will be fought. In fact, I’d wager that Trump is thumping his chest about this right now to buy himself goodwill with his base — and with the immigration hard-liners — in case he ends up selling out on any of the more consequential tough-on-immigration promises he made during the campaign.
The Washington Examiner reports that “immigration hawks are worried that he won’t make their issue a high enough priority.” They worry some of his Cabinet picks are alarmingly “relaxed” about immigration. They are lobbying Trump to appoint an “immigration czar,” and they would like it to be Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach, one of the most notorious immigration hard-liners in the country. They are aware that tough policies in places like Arizona met a huge public backlash — and they fret that Trump, fearing more of the same, will go squishy before carrying out his draconian program.
Guess what: This is a reasonable fear on their part. Trump still has to decide whether he is going to make good on his promise to revoke protections for young DREAMers brought here illegally as children, which would leave hundreds of thousands subject to deportation and without work permits, driving them back into the shadows. The DREAMers are tremendously sympathetic figures. They are organized and politically savvy. They are culturally American. And there will be a lot of wrenching media stories detailing their plight, should Trump go through with his promise. Small wonder Trump is already signaling that he may back down.
Meanwhile, Trump has to decide how, or whether, he’s really going to ramp up the deportations in any kind of significant way, as he promised to do. He has said he will start with the criminals first, which, at bottom, is an admission of the real problem here: The executive has to prioritize who to remove, due to funding and other constraints, and that means he has little choice but to proceed as Obama did — that is, prioritize the removal of the most serious offenders. Trump may try to ramp up the deportations beyond that, but this might create all sorts of other problems that he may balk at. And this, too, would lead to a lot of media stories about families of longtime residents being ruptured in all sorts of cruel ways.
That is where the real battles will be fought. The wall, while important in many ways, is a sideshow to those things. Frank Sharry of America’s Voice emails me:
“The wall is a monument to Trump’s stupidity. But in the end, it’s not our top priority. A wall won’t take work permits from DREAMers and rip families apart by deporting millions. The real battles for both sides will be over whether to preserve DACA for young people and whether to ramp up deportations.”
In a sense, Trump’s focus on the wall shows once again how well he understands his appeal to his supporters. Trump communicates in garish symbols. While some of his xenophobic appeals have been made with great specificity, the Great Mexican Wall is a broad symbolic stroke. It communicates that Trump is slamming the brakes on larger forces (globalization; large immigration flows) that are making his supporters feel culturally, demographically, and economically destabilized. While Trump voters did support mass deportations, it’s hard to know how much actually seeing them happen will really matter to them. And besides, the broader public is all but certain to recoil if he carries them out. Focusing on the wall will tell his supporters he’s still making good on Trumpism, even if he has to back down on some of the truly ugly stuff.
Now, Trump very well may go through with the rescinding of protections for “dreamers” and with expanded mass deportations. But if he does end up balking at one or more of these, that Great Trumpian Wall will be very useful to him.
* TWO GOP SENATORS BUCK PARTY ON PLANNED PARENTHOOD: Republicans are now moving to defund Planned Parenthood as part of their Obamacare repeal bill, but CNN reports:
Two pro-abortion rights senators, Susan Collins of Maine and Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, won’t commit to approving the bill with the Planned Parenthood provision in it, endangering GOP hopes of easily getting the Affordable Care Act repeal legislation through the Senate.
If the nixing of Planned Parenthood’s funding (which funds many women’s health services, but not abortion) goes down, that would be a substantial early defeat for the GOP Congress.
* RUSSIAN OFFICIALS ‘CELEBRATED’ TRUMP WIN: The Post scoops this on the forthcoming intelligence report:
Senior officials in the Russian government celebrated Donald Trump’s victory over Hillary Clinton as a geopolitical win for Moscow, according to U.S. officials who said that American intelligence agencies intercepted communications in the aftermath of the election in which Russian officials congratulated themselves on the outcome.
Still, a bit of caution is in order: intelligence officials concede this particular evidence does not conclusive prove that Russia meddled to help Trump. The report should tell us more.
* INTELLIGENCE MAY HAVE IDENTIFIED RUSSIAN HACKERS: Another nugget from the Post report:
Other key pieces of information gathered by U.S. spy agencies include the identification of “actors” involved in delivering stolen Democratic emails to the WikiLeaks website, and disparities in the levels of effort Russian intelligence entities devoted to penetrating and exploiting sensitive information stored on Democratic and Republican campaign networks.
NBC News takes this further, reporting this, based on a senior U.S. official: “The U.S. has also identified Russian actors who turned over stolen Democratic material to WikiLeaks.”
* THE LAST JOBS REPORT UNDER PRESIDENT OBAMA: The December jobs numbers are in:
The U.S. economy added 156,000 new jobs in December, according to government data issued Friday. The final issued by the Labor Department during President Obama’s administration showed the unemployment rate at 4.7 percent, slightly up from 4.6 percent the previous month….December marks the 75th straight month of job growth – the most extended streak the country has seen since 1939.
Economics writer Ben White sums up the big picture:
* VERY LITTLE PUBLIC SUPPORT FOR GOP REPEAL PLAN: A new Kaiser Family Foundation poll finds Americans divided by on repealing Obamacare (49 percent for; 47 percent against). But:
Of those who want to see Congress vote to repeal the law, a larger share say they want lawmakers to wait to vote to repeal the law until the details of a replacement plan have been announced (28 percent) than say Congress should vote to repeal the law immediately and work out the details of a replacement plan later (20 percent).
One in five want the law repealed with no replacement agreed upon, as Republicans are likely to do. And, of course, it’s plausible there will never be any consensus GOP replacement.
* AMERICANS SUPPORT GOVERNMENT SPENDING ON HEALTH CARE: Another interesting nugget from the Kaiser poll:
Six in ten (62 percent) Americans prefer “guaranteeing a certain level of health coverage and financial help for seniors and lower-income Americans, even if it means more federal health spending and a larger role for the federal government” while three in ten (31 percent) prefer the approach of “limiting federal health spending, decreasing the federal government’s role, and giving state governments and individuals more control over health insurance, even if this means some seniors and lower-income Americans would get less financial help than they do today.”
Generally speaking, a large majority supports government spending and regulation to ensure a robust coverage expansion for people who lack it. If only we had a plan in place that already does this.
* AND DON’T FALL FOR TRUMP’S P.R. STRATEGY ON JOBS: Paul Krugman explains what Trump’s strategy of highlighting “saved” jobs here and there (Carrier, Sprint) is really designed to accomplish:
Mr. Trump won overwhelming support from white working-class voters, who believed that he was on their side. Yet his real policy agenda, aside from the looming trade war, is standard-issue modern Republicanism: huge tax cuts for billionaires and savage cuts to public programs, including those essential to many Trump voters. So what can Mr. Trump do to keep the scam going? The answer is, showy but trivial interventions that can be spun as saving a few jobs here or there.
And even when Trump doesn’t deserve credit for “saved” jobs, headlines uncritically reflect his claims that he does. Folks, please don’t forget my Rule of Thumb for headlines in the Trump Era!