This week, conservative lawmakers and commentators persuaded President Trump to pull a last-minute about-face in the government shutdown debate. The White House had sent signals that it wouldn’t insist on border wall funding, but these conservatives rightly noted this might be Trump’s last chance to get his wall before Democrats take over the House.
Could it happen again?
“Fox and Friends” host Brian Kilmeade on Friday morning tore into Trump’s other controversial decision this week — to pull U.S. troops out of Syria — and he did it right to the face of Trump’s own press secretary, Sarah Sanders.
Kilmeade even went so far as to say that the president was paving the way for a revitalized Islamic State, also known as ISIS.
“He also is doing exactly what he criticized President Obama for doing,” Kilmeade told Sanders. “He said President Obama is the founder of ISIS; he just re-founded ISIS, because they have 30,000 men there and they are already striking back with our would-be evacuation. The president is really on the griddle with this.”
“Leaving is helping,” Kilmeade added, repeating: “Leaving is helping.”
Sanders fought back, insisting that the charges were “outrageous” and that she “respectfully and vehemently” disagreed. She noted the Trump administration’s very real success in beating back ISIS in Syria.
But as with the border wall, this kind of blowback appears to be penetrating with its desired audience — the Audience of One, who happens to be Fox’s most famous devoted viewer.
“I’ve done more damage to ISIS than all recent presidents . . . not even close!” Trump tweeted late Friday morning.
(Side note: As Trump’s own “founder of ISIS” talking point noted, the terrorist group didn’t really exist, as currently constituted, before the Obama administration. So “all recent presidents” really only includes one other president.)
There’s no proof that his tweet was a direct response to Kilmeade, but Trump is a religious viewer of “Fox and Friends,” and this was perhaps the most full-throated conservative denunciation of Trump’s Syria posture to date — on Trump’s favorite show. It was also delivered straight to Trump’s own spokeswoman.
But regardless of whether Trump was responding directly to Kilmeade, he was clearly responding to a sentiment that is increasingly being voiced in conservative circles and could prove compelling. Trump campaigned on pulling out of Syria, yes, but the fact remains that hasty withdrawals from military theaters carry with them loads of unintended consequences. Even if you think this is the right call, the clear fact is that this could go south quickly if a lack of American involvement does revitalize ISIS. And every president’s worst nightmare is being held culpable for a terrorist attack on U.S. soil.
Which also happens to be something Trump is clearly conscious of, judging by his tweets. “I am building by far the most powerful military in the world,” he tweeted Thursday. “ISIS hits us they are doomed!”
This is a message that is being delivered by basically all but two GOP senators (Rand Paul and Mike Lee) and also by conservative commentators who largely remain more hawkish on foreign policy than Trump. It was also delivered in no uncertain terms by his defense secretary, Jim Mattis, who effectively resigned Thursday in protest.
At this point, Trump and basically nobody else owns this decision. His allies are warning him not just of the potential disaster it could for national security but also for his own political legacy. We’ll see if he listens to their advice again.