If President Trump reverses his campaign promises and supports a DACA amnesty then within the span of a few days he would do to himself what the combined efforts of the Democratic National Committee, the Republican establishment, the Clinton campaign, and an openly hostile media couldn’t do: knee-cap his presidency and separate himself from his base.
Amnesty is where Republican careers go to die. Just ask Senator Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) whose own 2016 presidential run was stillborn because he backed the 2012 “Gang of Eight” amnesty bill after promising voters in 2010 he would do no such thing.
Guess who offered Marco the apple back in 2012? Senator Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.). The same Chuck Schumer who is in the process of leading another electorally successful Republican to break faith with his base. But this time it’s the president.
Little did Democrats or establishment Republicans know that in order to separate Trump from the people who elected him, all they had to do was send a New York Democrat to pitch an amnesty bill. Think of all the wasted ink, the needless declamations, and sundry accusations. There was no need for James Comey’s public agonizing or Robert Mueller’s unfettered investigation or the phony Russian hacking and collusion story: just encourage the president to do to himself what his opponents could never do to him. Finesse is often more powerful than force.
Democrats Crow, Internet Explodes
Of course, no one expected that Barack Obama’s unconstitutional Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program could be Trump’s Achilles heel. Trump used to understand the politics of immigration on the Right. In 2013 he tweeted “Amnesty is suicide for Republicans. Not one of those 12 million who broke our laws will vote Republican. Obama is laughing at @GOP.” If Trump goes for this deal, Chuck Schumer will be laughing at Trump.
Emerging from a dinner Wednesday night at the White House, Schumer and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) crowed they had reached an amnesty deal with Trump. The Internet exploded: Trump’s detractors discovered in him some previously unseen virtue while his supporters reacted to the whiff of betrayal. Then came the half-hearted backpedaling, then the non-denial-denials, and finally the double-talk and dissembling from the White House.
The president took to Twitter to promise that in exchange for amnesty we’ll get “BIG border security.” He also asked his supporters to believe that “The WALL, which is already under construction in the form of new renovation of old and existing fences and walls, will continue to be built.” Really? The Wall is already under construction? Hours later, the president confirmed Schumer’s version of the story, saying “The Wall will come later…”
That’s why when CNN reports that a White House spokesman says the Trump Administration “will not discuss amnesty” but “what they will discuss is a responsible path forward,” we all get the joke. When a politician promises that “it’s not amnesty” you can be sure it’s amnesty.
We’ve all heard these arguments before and they’re always the same. The open-borders crowd is always willing to promise money and enforcement in the future for amnesty today. That’s what they’re offering again, but they’re hoping Trump can sell it to the Republican base.
If the president backs a DACA amnesty—as he seems to have indicated he will—then he will have divorced himself from everything that became known as Trumpism. Within a very short time, he will have gone from an America First foreign policy and building the wall to more war in Afghanistan and open borders. Perhaps next we will learn that he has always secretly supported NAFTA.
DACA will be seen as part of a growing pattern of departures from his own campaign promises. Many Trump supporters were willing to give the president a pass on the missile strikes in Syria. They were a reversal of Trump’s promise to extricate our country from taking sides in a winless civil war in the Middle East where there are neither any easily identifiable “good guys” nor a clear national security interest. In isolation, the strikes could be swallowed. Then he expanded the war in Afghanistan and it started to look like a rejection of his own stated policy. It is the nation’s longest war, has cost over $750 billion, 2,500 lives, and what do we have to show for it? The United Nations estimates the Taliban controls more of Afghanistan than they did on 9/11.
Talk Damages Credibility
Now comes DACA. Candidate Trump promised to undo Obama’s blatantly unconstitutional and immoral unilateral DACA amnesty. He delayed. But finally, he acted with a six-month window that put the pressure on Congress. This seemed like a promise belatedly kept and a shrewd political move, forcing Congress to legislate and implicitly knocking Obama for one of his more egregious unconstitutional acts as president.
It could have been a rope-a-dope that relied on Congress being unable to act and then allowed Trump to claim credit for having tried. That’s still possible. And in the abstract, it may even look like good politics.
But even talk of a deal with Schumer-Pelosi-Ryan undermines the president’s credibility with his base. Amnesty violates the central principle that binds together the entire Trump agenda: a high view of the value of American citizenship. It is not a mere policy dispute to be negotiated away in exchange for some other win. It animates every element of the Trump agenda, from antipathy to optional wars to pro-worker economic policy to the deconstruction of the deep state.
Journalists and political pros might be tempted to deduce from this episode what White House faction is ascendant or to decry the loss of Steve Bannon from the West Wing. But the answer is much simpler. The buck stops on the Resolute Desk and with the man sitting behind it.
So like many a Republican before him, Trump may be seduced by the temptation of a few days of muted praise from the mainstream media. But if Democrats and open-borders Republicans get what they want—amnesty—it will be back to the status quo ante. And if that happens, Trump won’t be able to rely on his base, on the people who believed him, who worked for him, who defended him, and who voted for him. Because they will be gone.
The rights of American citizens and the equal, impartial enforcement of our laws—all of them—should not be for sale and voters know it.
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