THE MEMO: Trump keeps political world guessing
The political world is trying to figure out President Trump — again.
Trump has repeatedly transgressed the norms of political behavior since he began his quest for the presidency in June 2015. He has done so primarily by appealing to the Republican base in visceral terms.
That has changed in recent days, as Trump has instead sought progress on a stalled legislative agenda by cooperating with Democrats.
Now, Washington is fixated on whether this presages a longer-term shift on Trump’s part or is only a momentary aberration.
Among some Trump supporters, there was disenchantment, especially at an apparent openness to protecting beneficiaries of the Obama-era Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program.
During his campaign, Trump promised to end DACA, which he described as “illegal amnesty.”
As recently as 10 days ago, Trump moved to phase out the program, which has given work permits and relief from the threat of deportation to about 800,000 people who entered the United States illegally as children.
As reports emerged that Trump might back legislation that enshrined similar protections, some erstwhile supporters reacted with outrage, posting pictures on social media of them destroying merchandise from his campaign.
But other Republicans insisted it was important not to get carried away by one or two instances of the president being open to bipartisanship.
Charlie Black, a veteran Republican strategist, said, “I think he figured out that some of the things he wants to get done are not going to get done on a purely partisan basis.”
Black asserted that this shouldn’t be interpreted to mean that Trump was somehow morphing into a centrist.
“No, I think he is transactional person and he will operate on an ad hoc basis,” he said.
Further deepening the confusion, the president has maintained the hard-line rhetoric that excites his base — and appalls Democrats — on other issues.
On Friday morning, in the wake of an apparent terrorist attack in London that required hospital treatment for around 30 people, Trump reaffirmed his belief in his controversial travel ban.
“The travel ban into the United States should be far larger, tougher and more specific,” he tweeted, “but stupidly, that would not be politically correct!”
Many Democrats and liberals are dismissive of the idea that Trump has any intention of adopting a more moderate course. Rep. Maxine Waters (D-Calif.), who has repeatedly called for the president’s impeachment, tweeted on Friday that he could not be trusted by anyone, including Democrats.
The idea of a Trump shift toward the political center first arose when he struck a deal with senior Democrats to raise the debt ceiling for a shorter period than GOP leaders in Congress had wanted.
Then, he moved toward an agreement with the same Democrats — Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer (N.Y.) and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (Calif.) — on DACA.
The Democrats are adamant that they will not support funding for the border wall that Trump promised again and again during his presidential campaign.
The developments have caused consternation to some people who once supported him vigorously.
Jenny Beth Martin, the co-founder of the Tea Party Patriots, said activists were “very, very concerned. What we were hearing yesterday morning [in the wake of Trump’s meeting with Schumer and Pelosi] is very much what we all would have been expecting to hear if Hillary Clinton had been elected president. We voted for something different from Hillary Clinton, not the same thing.”
At the same time, alluding to the haze that hangs over Trump’s exact position, Martin added: “We can’t tell what is real and what is not. There is a lot of contradiction.”
The question of what has been agreed to on immigration is the subject of some confusion. On Thursday morning, Trump insisted, “No deal was made last night on DACA,” a line that White House spokespeople also pushed. But Trump left the door wide open for such a deal, saying, “Massive border security would have to be agreed to in exchange for consent. Would be subject to vote.”
For Republicans who have long been critical of Trump, the latest shift is not so surprising. Many of them simply do not believe that the president has any fixed ideological moorings. They note that he has contributed to Democratic candidates — including Hillary Clinton — in the past, and that he once said that he identified “more as Democrat” than as a Republican.
They see Trump’s latest moves as driven by political expediency. John “Mac” Stipanovich, a longtime power player in Republican politics in Florida, noted reports that Trump was pleased that his latest moves had drawn positive media coverage — in sharp contrast to the failed attempt to repeal the Affordable Care Act, also known as ObamaCare.
“Donald Trump does not have principles. He gives performances,” said Stipanovich, a Trump critic who has ties to the Bush family.
“The performance on health care, for example, was very unsatisfactory. It was panned by the critics and not appreciated by the audience. Now, he has rolled out a new performance, and it is getting a lot of good reviews and a lot of positive attention.”
The larger question may be whether Trump can portray his latest moves as a pragmatic search for solutions — or whether his supporters see them as a sell-out.
Asked about how the latest Trump moves could be reconciled to his campaign promise to “drain the swamp” of Washington, Black, the GOP strategist, contended “there are a lot more people who want to see accomplishments than there are people who just want to blow up the city.”
Others are not convinced.
“My concern is that The Swamp knows how to play the game,” said Martin. “They know how to get what they want, which is always more spending and more government. “
“Whatever The Swamp wants, they get right away. And whatever the people want is always promised for some future date. I am tired of that and I think all our supporters are tired of that,” she added.
The Memo is a reported column by Niall Stanage, primarily focused on Donald Trump’s presidency
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