Trump Oval Office
Credit: The White House/Flickr

One of the most important things to understand about Donald Trump is that he only does things for one of two reasons: money or optics. He has no sense of responsibility to society at large, and his only political instincts are in the service of ill-formed racist and sexist resentments.

So it was with Trump’s half-baked special announcement today, offering a temporary 3-year protection for Americans covered under DACA in exchange for a $5 billion of border wall funding.

This is a joke. The president knows it’s a joke. And Democrats are appropriately treating it as a joke. It’s entirely for optics. But the problem for the president and his party is that most Americans already decided that the wall is stupid, Trump is responsible for the shutdown, and DACA recipients need to be protected regardless.

The supposed offer is also insulting. The previous round of negotiations around the wall reportedly saw Chuck Schumer offer a full $25 billion of wall funding in exchange for permanent DACA protections. Trump seemed to agree to the deal at first–after all, he campaigned on taking care of Dreamers–but then the immigration hardliners realized that Schumer’s generous offer was a bad deal for white supremacy, so they reneged. Further, numerous lower courts ruled against Trump’s attempts to eliminate DACA protections, and the Supreme Court’s apparent refusal to hear the case is a clear signal that DACA is safer now than it was when Schumer made his prior offer.

So to recap: Trump’s new offer is far stingier now than it was during prior negotiations, even though Trump’s negotiating position is far worse. DACA is better protected by the courts, Democrats now have the House and the weight of a public mandate after the 2018 election, and the politics of the shutdown are far more damaging to Trump than to the Democrats

So why make a joke offer? In all likelihood Trump and what is left of his team don’t have a plan. They’re desperately trying to change the narrative by throwing things at the wall to see what sticks. Taking the women’s march out of the news was surely a selling point. Trying to make Democrats seem intransigent in negotiations was certainly worth a try.

But no amount of optics management can change the reality that Trump has painted himself and his party into a corner. The conservative infotainment complex that actually runs the party has no interest even in this latest paltry offering, most of the country has essentially tuned out the president, and Democrats have no incentive to take any deal in negotiations while the government remains closed.

If Trump won’t act to end the self-inflicted crisis, eventually a veto-proof majority of Senators will be forced to do it for him.

David Atkins

Follow David on Twitter @DavidOAtkins. 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.