The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Opinion Raging, isolated Trump retreats deeper into his bubble

The Fix’s Eugene Scott explains how Trump’s “shithole countries” comment is the latest example of his history of demeaning statements on nonwhite immigrants. (Video: Bastien Inzaurralde/The Washington Post, Photo: Matt McClain/The Washington Post)


President Trump, having clearly spent the morning absorbed in the careful study of immigration issues, just unleashed this thoughtful and considered policy prescription:

We must have Security at our VERY DANGEROUS SOUTHERN BORDER, and we must have a great WALL to help protect us, and to help stop the massive inflow of drugs pouring into our country!

The notion that a wall will stop the influx of drugs is a fantasy, but the real point here is that Trump is doubling down on his rejection of a deal reached by a bipartisan group of senators that would protect the “dreamers,” because it didn’t give him enough concessions, including on the wall. That rejection makes a government shutdown more likely.

But now, thanks to an important new report in The Post, we have learned much more about how and why he rejected this compromise. And it’s grounds for serious pessimism about what comes next.

The Post report confirms that despite Trump’s denial of the “shithole countries” comment, Trump did, in fact, privately conclude that the deal would result in more people coming to the United States “from countries he deemed undesirable.” This shows that Trump rejected the deal (as I argued) because it does not do enough to reverse the current racial and ethnic mix in the U.S.

The Trump administration, in its own words

But it gets worse: The Post also reports that Trump was originally favorable towards the deal, but the anti-immigration hardliners around him intervened, on the grounds that it would supposedly be “damaging” to Trump and “would hurt him with his political base.” This included (unsurprisingly) Stephen Miller and even (disturbingly) Chief of Staff John F. Kelly. After that, The Post reports, Trump began telling friends that the agreement was “a terrible deal for me.”

This is dispiriting to learn, because in reality, the deal actually makes substantial concessions to Trump. The deal would offer legal protections to the dreamers — people who were brought here illegally as children — in exchange for more money poured into border security, an end to some types of family-based immigration (dreamers will not be able to petition for their parents to get legalization, though they would get temporary protected status) and a cut of half the amount of visas the lottery system awards to people from historically lower-immigration countries.

These are meaningful concessions. For the vast majority of lawmakers, the argument here is not over whether to protect the dreamers — Trump himself supports doing this — it’s over what Trump should be given in exchange for agreeing to it. The Migration Policy Institute estimates that as many as 500,000 parents of dreamers who might otherwise have tried to gain legalization probably would not be able to under this deal, according to the group’s senior policy analyst Julia Gelatt.

Follow Greg Sargent's opinionsFollow

In humanitarian terms, this would be a bitter pill for the dreamers. “The tension that dreamers face is that they often feel their parents have already made a lot of sacrifices for them,” Gelatt tells me. “A bill that would further limit their parents’ opportunities may be hard for many dreamers to swallow.”

The deal would also result in 25,000 fewer visas to new immigrants by lottery per year, Gelatt says. Instead, those protections would now be awarded to people with Temporary Protected Status — people who would have stayed anyway if Trump were not also rolling back that program. And the deal completely sidelines the question of what to do about the 11 million undocumented people already here — which of course allows their deportations to continue apace.

Trump is easily manipulated

Yet Trump was easily manipulated into believing this deal would sell out his base. This suggests Trump is both totally lost on the policy details and is captive to the idea — pushed heavily by a few loud voices on the far right — that his base is not just ardently restrictionist but also will break out into open rebellion if that sentiment is not honored to the hilt, rendering all compromise and problem-solving impossible. Indeed, The Post reports that Trump originally thought his “shithole” comment would also help with the base (how this squares with his subsequent denial of the comment is anyone’s guess).

Yet many in his base might not actually reject a deal protecting the dreamers: A recent Quinnipiac University poll found that large majorities of non-college whites, older voters, and even white men support such protections. And Trump is rejecting the compromise even though it was negotiated by a bipartisan group of senators — a genuine good faith effort that was easily poisoned in Trump’s mind by a cadre of advisers operating with seemingly bottomless bad faith.

One of the biggest lies at the core of Trumpism is the idea that great swaths of Real America are rooting for the hardest of hard-line immigration crackdowns to succeed and that only liberal elites in their bubble don’t get this. But this idea has itself created a bubble around Trump, and his most cynical advisers are very skilled at keeping it in place.

* GOP SENATOR: WE WILL TAKE BLAME FOR SHUTDOWN: The New York Times reports that some politicians in both parties are wondering if a government shutdown over the dreamers will hurt their party more. But:

With their party controlling the White House and both chambers of Congress, they could receive most of the blame for a shutdown, even if Senate Democrats effectively block a spending plan that does not extend the immigrant protections … “To believe that you can successfully blame Democrats for a shutdown over the DACA debate is naïve,” said Senator Lindsey Graham, Republican of South Carolina.

Graham’s view is obviously colored by his support for a deal protecting the dreamers, but he’s very likely correct.

* TRUMP MAY HAVE WEAKENED GOP POSITION: The Washington Examiner reports that some Democrats think Trump’s “shithole” comment may have made it easier for them to win the politics of a shutdown fight. From Dem strategist Ed Espinoza:

“The politics, especially right now, is more about why the shutdown is happening — and, if there is a shutdown, it can easily be attributed to the unreasonable demands of a racist president. The shutdown of 2013 essentially happened because Republicans could not keep Ted Cruz in line. If there’s a shutdown in 2018, it will be because Republicans cannot keep Donald Trump in line.”

Yep, it is likely that this is exactly how it would play with most voters.

* CONSERVATIVES PRESSURE RYAN: Politico reports that House conservatives are pressuring Speaker Paul D. Ryan (R-Wis.) to allow a vote on a bill offering both weaker protections to the dreamers and a right wing immigration crackdown wish list. Note:

The … bill … would crack down on sanctuary cities, tweak policies governing child migrants and asylum seekers, and require companies to verify the legal status of their workers. The latter provision, known as E-verify, would put centrist House Republicans in swing districts in a difficult position. Some hail from heavily Hispanic districts where E-verify would disrupt agriculture businesses.

Those centrist House Republicans are key. Imagine how it will play in their districts if Republicans allow a government shutdown and fail to protect the dreamers.

* REPUBLICANS WORRY LOSING HOUSE IS ‘LIKELY’: Axios’s Mike Allen reports on the mood among Republicans:

Hill sources tell us that a House Democratic takeover is now likely. One strategist close to Republican leaders believes that a loss of the House is “baked in,” and said top Republicans don’t see a way to avoid it. … The average loss for the president’s party in his first midterm is about 32 seats, and we’re hearing forecasts of 40+ losses.

There is still a long way to go, but the polling averages find that Democrats lead in the generic ballot match-up by more than 11 points.

* EVEN REPUBLICANS SAY ‘SHITHOLE’ WAS INAPPROPRIATE: A new CBS News poll gauges Americans’ response to Trump’s “shithole” comments, and finds:

More than eight in 10 Americans … said they had heard about them, and three-quarters (76 percent) say the remarks were inappropriate. Almost all Democrats, nearly 8 in 10 independents and 45 percent of Republicans say so as well.

Meanwhile, Americans favor letting dreamers stay by 70-30 but disapprove of a deal that would build the wall in exchange by 58-42. Trump is totally in a strong position in this debate.

* TRUMP IS BETRAYING HIS BASE: Ron Brownstein has a great column explaining that reducing immigration would mean fewer workers over time to fund the Social Security and Medicare programs that aging white Trump voters will rely on:

The principal economic impact of slashing immigration as deeply as Trump is seeking would be to destabilize the federal retirement programs that are indispensable to those same voters. With his systematic offensive against immigration, Trump is feeding the prejudices of some of his supporters — while threatening their ability to keep food on the table when they retire.

And, of course, the large deficits that Trump’s tax plan will run up to pay for huge permanent corporate tax cuts could make that worse.

* AND TRUMPISM’S REAL GOAL IS TO DESTROY: Paul Krugman notes that education and immigration have economically lifted parts of the country that don’t back Trump, but that he and many Republicans have responded by just attacking those things. Which means:

Clearly, we need policies to spread the benefits of growth and innovation more widely. But one way to think of Trumpism is as an attempt to narrow regional disparities, not by bringing the lagging regions up, but by cutting the growing regions down. For that’s what attacks on education and immigration, key drivers of the new economy’s success stories, would do.

Also, these attacks make liberals really, really mad, which is its own awesome reward.