Trump Pulls Plug on DACA. Will He Survive the Consequences?

In the ninth month of his presidency, it seems clear that Donald Trump is motivated by little more than bigotry, narcissism, dominance posturing, and the desire to anger anyone with a sense of basic decency. Today’s reported decision to end the DACA program with only a six-month delay fits all of those criteria. But at what point does a policy of vindictive, malignant belligerence sow the seeds of its own destruction?

Trump’s DACA decision was not unexpected. As many observers (including yours truly) anticipated, Trump and his team decided to please his white supremacist base and the GOP governors and attorneys general who demanded this cruel policy rather than stand up to them. Protecting children and young adults who committed no crime beyond being brought to America at an early age by their parents is enormously popular, including among Republicans.

If Trump were a true populist, he would ride on a wave of public sentiment against his own party. But bigotry and white supremacy are core values of this administration, even if it means cratering further in public opinion. Angering liberals pleases Trump of its own accord, and watching the howls of righteous indignation from every left- and center-leaning group in the United States makes Trump and his petty, terrified supporters feel tough and powerful at the thought of armed white men deporting defenseless non-white children to a country they have never known.

But in true Trumpian fashion, the president still took a coward’s way out. Rather than simply end DACA outright or continue it outright, he is giving a six-month window to end it. This functionally means kicking the can to Congress, which will be forced to decide the issue of DACA’s renewal. This will not please Republicans in the House and Senate, most of whom know that the party’s post-Trump future with Hispanic voters depends on them distancing themselves from the barbaric cruelty of Trump and his red state attorneys general, but who also cannot afford to upset Trump’s white nationalist base. Congressional Republicans will also be dealing with a full scale revolt not just from the expected left-leaning advocacy groups and mass protests, but from corporate America as well. Just today Apple CEO Tim Cook made it clear that his company stands with the Dreamers. Expect most of the rest of corporate America to follow suit in the coming months.

But it’s even worse than that. Trump’s calculus is likely to use DACA kids as a hostage, a bargaining chip to hold against Congress in exchange for Trump’s other unpopular priorities including his border wall and tax cuts for the rich. This puts Republicans in Congress in a double bind: either support funding for a pointless and unpopular wall, or take the blame from the President and from Democrats for killing DACA.

Unless Democrats and Republicans can join together to form a veto-proof majority to enshrine protection for Dreamers into law, Trump will be able to dangle the threat of deporting 800,000 blameless people over the head of every member of Congress.

That would be one thing if Trump held a powerful negotiating position. He does not.

Congress controls the pace and scope of many of the inquiries about Trump, his finances and his campaign’s connections to Russia. Congress has the power to enable or scuttle Trump’s other legislative priorities. Congress can decide whether to approve Trump’s nominees, including for positions Trump might choose to try to replace in a future Saturday night massacre. Trump’s low approval ratings will not allow him to withstanding a push for impeachment if it comes from within his own party.

Trump may discover that political gravity does apply to him in the end. It’s impossible to predict exactly when it will happens, but disasters tend to occur very slowly–and then all at once. Trump cannot make the entire left-and-center of America believe it’s in an existential crisis of survival, make an enemy of most of corporate America, and infuriate the members of Congress even in his own party, and hope to survive. Not with all the scandals and investigations hanging over his head. Not with ever-declining approval ratings, increasingly large coalitions of powerful opponents, and and millions of angry marchers in the streets

At some point Republicans will decide he’s not worth the hassle and simply choose to be rid of him. The question is how much damage they’ll allow him to do both to the country and the Republican Party before they do what is necessary.

David Atkins

David Atkins is a writer, activist and research professional living in Santa Barbara. He is a contributor to the Washington Monthly's Political Animal and president of The Pollux Group, a qualitative research firm.