Jacob Heilbrunn

Working with Democrats: Donald Trump’s latest plot twist

Working with Democrats: Donald Trump's latest plot twist
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While Donald Trump seeks to cut a deal with the Democrats on immigration, his detractors on the right are starting to resemble the sinister clown Pennywise in the popular new horror movie It, who terrorizes a small town in Maine by living in a sewer and snacking on children. ‘Trump base is blown up, destroyed, irreparable, and disillusioned beyond repair,’ writes Rep Steve King from Iowa, a longtime foe of illegal immigration.

Trump’s specific sin? He’s wavering on booting out the so-called Dreamers, about 800,000 undocumented children under the age of 16 who crossed the border with alone or with their parents, in many cases as toddlers. Trump made a big deal of promising to deport them during the campaign but performed something of a volte-face on Wednesday night, when he had dinner with his new best friends, ‘Chuck and Nancy,’ as he refers to Senate minority leader Chuck Schumer and House minority leader Nancy Pelosi. For Trump, who craves revenge on his foes, the upsides are clear: he got to undermine Attorney General Jeff Sessions, who gloried in making the announcement that the Dreamers were on the way out, and to catch Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell and House Speaker Paul Ryan flatfooted. Trump had already humiliated the Republicans with his debt deal with the Democrats. Now he got to deal out some more humble pie.

Trump may weather the cries of apostasy emanating from everyone from Steve Bannon’s Breitbart to Ann Coulter. The latter asked, ‘Who DOESN’T want Trump impeached?’ But as the television talk show host Joe Scarborough points out in the Washington Post today, caution is in order. He notes, ‘the president’s superglue hold over his supporters has flummoxed conservative and liberal commentators alike.’

If you view Trump primarily as an entertainer, then his followers in the hinterland, who despise the professional political class, may be more than willing to forgive his transgressions. For Trump, it is the show that is preeminent. He wants you to stay tuned. By treating with the Democratic leadership, he has created a fresh and dramatic plot twist. Speculation about whether this represents an actual courtship or simply a brief flirtation is rampant in Washington. In that sense, Trump’s ideological tergiversations are a definite plus.

The danger for Trump, however, in dissing not only the Republican establishment but also the hardcore legislators in the House Freedom Caucus who admire him is that he renders himself more vulnerable to impeachment. Maybe Trump is calculating that moving more towards the centre will prompt the Democrats to go easier on him. But the antipathy that he has stirred is so profound among the Democratic base that this seems like a pipe dream.

Just yesterday, for instance, Trump revived his bogus moral equivalence line about the protesters in Charlottesville, claiming that the protesters of the neo-Nazis—or to use Trump’s twitter parlance ‘nephew Nazis’—were as bad as them. Still, there are upsides to Trump. The Democrats may begin to realize that the only thing worse than having Trump in office is not having him in office. A blandly phlegmatic President Pence would be a much greater threat than Trump to the Democratic agenda. Right now, the Democrats are enjoying the best of both worlds—a deeply unpopular president who seems prepared to sell out his own party for fleeting political gain.