Probably the most obvious example of President Trump’s clumsy attempts to leverage the power of the presidency to benefit his party before the midterm election was his declaration to reporters in late October that he would cut taxes for the middle class before Election Day.
In short order, people noted that passing a massive piece of legislation in the span of 15 days seemed impractical in the best of times, but much more so when Congress wasn’t in session and hundreds of lawmakers needed to be on the campaign trail. Within days, Trump kicked out the timeline, saying that some sort of resolution about a plan to cut taxes would happen before the election, even if the vote itself didn’t. On Halloween, Trump and Rep. Kevin Brady (R-Tex.) released a joint statement announcing that Republicans planned to cut taxes further — and that was it.
It doesn’t seem to have helped Republicans much in the midterms. The party lost well more than 30 seats in the House and a number of governorships. The GOP picked up some Senate seats — but largely in heavily red states. No mention has been made of tax cuts since, save National Economic Council Director Larry Kudlow saying that he didn’t “think the chances of that are very high,” given the change in House leadership. He reiterated on Tuesday that it wouldn’t happen in the lame-duck session before January, either.
You’ll notice that at the outset of this article, we identified the vaporware tax cut proposal as probably the most obvious example of Trump trying to leverage the presidency to benefit his party. Another contender for that title, of course, is the deployment of the military to the border with Mexico to defend against a caravan of migrants headed north from Central America.
There were just a few problems with that deployment. First, the troops arrived at the border weeks before any migrants from the caravans did. Second, there was never any serious suggestion that the migrants posed a real threat to the United States, with their plan apparently being to seek asylum upon arriving. A previous caravan had arrived at the border near Tijuana and its members waited to present themselves to authorities at the San Ysidro border crossing. As migrants began arriving at the border in recent days — well after the election — that’s also where they arrived. Hundreds of miles from the bulk of the troops, most of whom were deployed to Texas and Arizona.
In a tweet Monday, Trump undercut his own rhetoric on the need for troops at the border.
That’s an image of a section of wall that existed before Trump became president, topped with concertina wire, apparently added this week only as the number of migrants in Tijuana began to grow. In other places, the military installed the deterrent wire (which Trump described as “beautiful” during a campaign rally), including farther east in California. As you may have noticed, based on the uniform of the man in the photo, the wire above was reportedly installed by members of U.S. Customs and Border Protection.
Immediately after the election, the Defense Department dropped the existing name for its deployment — “Operation Faithful Patriot” — without offering a reason. On Monday, Politico reported that troops sent to the border would start being pulled back, with all of the troops removed from the border by mid-December.
It’s not clear how many members of the military might have seen any members of a migrant caravan.
Lower on the list of abandoned efforts to goose Republican enthusiasm was the discussion of ending birthright citizenship by executive order. That emerged during an interview with Axios in October, when the outlet’s Jonathan Swan questioned Trump about a rumor he’d been hearing. Trump, however sincerely, expressed surprise at the subject having been brought up.
In short order, the news media was swamped with discussion of the subject and — specifically — the overwhelming opinion from legal experts that Trump had no such power to unilaterally eliminate the granting of citizenship to those born in the United States, save an eventual (and remarkably generous) rubber-stamp from the Supreme Court.
The president wasted little time in making birthright citizenship part of his speeches at campaign rallies, telling a crowd in Missouri that “the Democrats want to continue giving automatic birthright citizenship to every child born to an illegal alien — even if they’ve been on our soil for a mere matter of seconds.” There’s no evidence that any significant number of American citizens were born following such an effort by a pregnant woman in labor.
As for the executive order, The Post reported this week that “the White House is not actively pursuing the executive order the president said he would sign,” administration officials said.
Obviously, Trump was hoping that his party would fare better in the midterm election and, equally obviously, he pulled what cards he could from his sleeve to make that happen. There’s no indication that his ploys worked, with some evidence suggesting that the emphasis on immigration in particular may have turned off some independent voters.
It was fairly obvious at the time that the troop deployment and the announcement about tax cuts were election ploys. Among those finding the ploys obvious, perhaps, were voters.