Donald Trump
Credit: Jamelle Bouie/Flickr

It’s admittedly hard to read a man like Donald Trump. He isn’t consistent. His word is not good. His comprehension of some of the basics of our system of government is shockingly low. His understanding of history, both recent and distant, is horribly flawed. His grasp of what is easy and difficult doesn’t appear to exist. He beat all his political opponents without seeming to have a realistic and overarching strategy, but more through a series of tactical battles that involved as many big losses as big wins. He lives in the moment and doesn’t follow even a basic script. He’s driven by lower emotions and is blinded to larger concerns.

So, it wasn’t really possible to confidently predict that he would not want to deport the Dreamers. His reaction to Charlottesville and his pardon of Joe Arpaio could have legitimately led people to conclude that his racial animosity would outweigh his compassion, and that his strategic vision was focused on shoring up the support of his racist base.

I perhaps am willing to give him too much credit for strategic thinking, although I’m wary of underestimating him after having done so for too long. But, I saw some of racial misbehavior in August as a potential prophylactic against the backlash he knew was coming in September when he would have to back down on DACA and the border wall to strike a deal with the Democrats on the budget.

After all, the backlash was very predictable:

Some think Trump doesn’t function on a level that makes this kind of foresight and deftness possible for him, and they have plenty of evidence to back up their position. For myself, I remain undecided but will err on the side of giving him too much credit. It’s the more prudent position, especially after losing to him once before in catastrophic fashion.

Nonetheless, the man does not learn or change easily. His blind spots are so huge that he will continue to wander into dead-end alleys. That he found himself in the position he was at in the beginning of September is a testament to his colossal lack of imagination and foresight. And, honestly, he only became somewhat easy to predict when his options had narrowed to a pinpoint.

He’s also a callous and unfeeling man. His approach on DACA is unconscionable because he is so concerned to preserve some face that he’s willing to leave all the Dreamers hanging in a suspended state, with all the fear and anxiety that creates for them and their friends and loved ones. Even if he’s committed to doing the right thing in the end, he’s going about it in such an awful and immoral way that he can’t be given much credit for it.

He’s recently learned through hard experience that he can’t rely on the Republicans in Congress to unite behind must-pass legislation, and now he’s relying on them to pass the DREAM Act. What if they can’t, or won’t?

I assume he will provide cover for Speaker Ryan so that he can introduce the bill even though it will break an explicit promise Ryan made as a condition of winning Republican support to become the Speaker of the House.  But it may be difficult for Ryan to get any bill through the committee process, or to pass a version that will be acceptable to the Senate.

Instead of sending Jeff Sessions out to announce the end of DACA, Trump could have just made the statement he made this morning:

“We’re working on a plan — subject to getting massive border controls. We’re working on a plan for DACA. People want to see that happen. You have 800,000 young people, brought here, no fault of their own. So we’re working on a plan, we’ll see how it works out. We’re going to get massive border security as part of that. And I think something can happen, we’ll see what happens, but something will happen.”

“We want to get massive border security. And I think that both Nancy Pelosi and Chuck Schumer, I think they agree with it.”

“Mitch is on board, Paul Ryan’s on board. We all feel — look, 92% of the people agree on DACA — but what we want is very, very powerful border security, okay?”

That would have been the humane way to announce he was backing down on deporting the Dreamers. Would Ann Coulter and Rep. Steve King have been any harsher in their criticism?

In any case, Trump is never going to be a decent human being. But he has learned that there’s no future in relying on McConnell and Ryan to turn him into a successful president. He learned it too late, but he’s had a month and half since the failure of Obamacare repeal to prepare (and be prepared) for a pivot. Republican voters by and large endorse Trump’s move in the Democrats’ direction, which is a testament to how unpopular the congressional Republicans have become.

Trump didn’t get to this point because he wanted to be here.

President Trump’s courtship of congressional Democrats intensified on Wednesday as he asserted a willingness to work with them on tax reform, immigration and infrastructure.

“Some of the greatest legislation ever passed, it was done in a bipartisan manner,” Trump told a group of moderate Republican and Democratic lawmakers at the White House. “And so that is what we are going to give a shot.”

You have to set your expectations at the lowest setting to give him credit for this. He didn’t learn until all his initial plans were in ashes and he was facing a national credit default and a government shutdown.

But, yes, you can say that he is pivoting now. Of course, is it really a pivot if the only way out of a blind alley is to go back the way you came in?

Martin Longman

Martin Longman is the web editor for the Washington Monthly. See all his writing at