Six years ago, when Trump was a blowhard who ran beauty contests, he surfaced on Fox News and talked about the undocumented immigrants who came to America as kids. Here’s what Trump said: “You have people in this country for 20 years. They’ve done a great job, they’ve done wonderfully, they’ve gone to school, they’ve gotten good marks, they’re productive. Now we’re supposed to send them out of the country? I don’t believe in that.”
Actually – and I know this is a shock – we don’t really know what he believes. Frankly, neither does he.
During his ’16 campaign, he promised his white-grievance fan base that “on Day One” he’d kick out the undocumented immigrants who came to America as kids. But on Day 27 he said the decision was “very difficult” because “I love these kids.” He realized that if he killed the Obama program that allows these young people (known today as Dreamers) to work and study and stay in America, he’d infuriate most Americans (64 percent support the Dreamers) and much of the business community (which says the Dreamers hold essential jobs); on the flip side, if he failed to kill Obama’s Dreamer program, he’d infuriate the rabid fan base on which he so desperately depends.
Last week Trump reportedly pleaded with aides to find him “a way out.” But after all his wobbling, there’s no easy exit. Whoever knew that governing could be so hard?
So his decision is to punt it to Congress. Today he’s saying: Yes, I’ll kill it, but you decide first. Some leader he is.
He didn’t even have the stones to announce it himself. He put Jeff Sessions out there to announce it for him. Trump spent weeks insulting Sessions on Twitter, trying to goad Sessions into quitting the AG job – and then, when crunch time arrived on the Dreamers, he opted to hide behind the guy. This is a new dictionary definition for weakling.
Rest assured, the Dreamers’ status is the last thing that congressional Republicans want to take on. Their autumn plates are already full, with passing a budget, raising the debt ceiling…trifles like that. But Trump’s message is essentially this: I’m gonna kick the can down the road and kill Obama’s Dreamer program in six months – but, in the meantime, if you guys want to find a legislative solution to maybe keep the Dreamers in America, or maybe not, then go right ahead, it’s all on you.
Way to put more political stress on the stressed-out Republican party.
The House GOP has lots of hardliners who are jonesing to deport the roughly 800,000 people in the Dreamer program; lest we forget, the House GOP voted for deportation in 2014 and 2015, but those were easy votes because members knew that Obama would veto it. But now, with all-Republican control, votes have real consequences – and Paul Ryan voiced sympathy last week for the Dreamers: “(These) are people who are in limbo. These are kids who know no other country, who were brought here by their parents and don’t know another home.”
In the Republican Senate, sentiment for the Dreamers is stronger, even among red-staters. Orrin Hatch of Utah says we need “a workable, permanent solution for individuals who entered the country unlawfully as children through no fault of their own and who have built their lives here.” James Lankford of Oklahoma says, “We as Americans do not hold children legally accountable for the actions of their parents.” And Republican governors are chiming in. Florida’s Rick Scott says, “These kids must be allowed to pursue the American dream.”
What’s the party to do? If Congress does nothing and allows Trump to kick out the Dreamers, that would please the Trumpkins whom he needs to keep feeding (Republican strategist Rick Wilson says, “There’s nothing he’s got right now except adulation from his base”). But a decision to deport would risk further alienating the landslide American majority, including a lot of lifelong Republicans who can’t abide Trump or his congressional abetters. People like Sally Bradshaw, who was a major player in the national party until the events of 2016.
She has long warned that the GOP can ill afford to alienate Hispanics; a Trump decision to deport Dreamers, especially via congressional inertia, clearly ticks her off: “Those in Republican leadership who have enabled his behavior by standing silent or making excuses for him deserve the reckoning that will eventually come for the GOP. It makes me terrifically sad, to be honest – sad for the party of ideas that I supported for over 30 years – even more sad for the country…I am a conservative. But I can’t and won’t be a Republican as long as Donald Trump is the leader of the Republican party.”
Meanwhile, what about the Dreamers – the young pawns caught in the crosshairs of the GOP’s identity crisis? They bought the terms of President Obama’s 2012 deal: If they graduated high school, or sustained their studies beyond high school; or if they’d served in our military and had been honorably discharged; if they’d never committed a felony or serious misdemeanor; if they found jobs and stayed on the job…then yes, they could register with the feds and stay in America.
But now comes Trump, with his kick-the-can con to kill the deal. As Steely Dan once sang, in their classic ’70s ode to immigrants, “See the glory of The Royal Scam.”
By the way, Steely Dan’s songwriting duo, Walter Becker RIP, and Donald Fagen, also penned “Chain Lightning,” a cautionary ’70s tune about saps who fall prey to demagogues. How timely it is:
Some turnout, a hundred grandGet with it we’ll shake his handDon’t bother to understandDon’t question the little manBe part of the brotherhoodYes it’s chain lightningIt feels so good