Donald Trump
Credit: The White House/Flickr

What does this Trump tweet even mean?

No, Amnesty is not a part of my offer. It is a 3 year extension of DACA. Amnesty will be used only on a much bigger deal, whether on immigration or something else. Likewise there will be no big push to remove the 11,000,000 plus people who are here illegally-but be careful Nancy!

Any form of negotiation depends on the presumption of basic intelligence and moderate predictability from its leaders. By extension, so do the norms of American democracy which rely on two competing parties to come to agreeable terms. If one side has no idea what it wants or is willing to trade for, then everything breaks down. Worse, if the people doing the negotiating aren’t actually in change or in a position to offer concessions then nothing dependable can come of the discussion.

It’s obvious by now that Trump doesn’t have a plan, doesn’t know what he wants, and isn’t really in a position to make any offers.

The White House rejected a much more favorable deal for wall funding long ago when Democrats had far less leverage. Then they didn’t expect to lose the midterm election. Then the conservative infotainment hucksters who actually control his base told him that he needed to get his wall funded before Democrats took office. This took the president by surprise, but he couldn’t get that done, so his next-best option was to hold the government hostage and try to wrong-foot Democrats in the House by making their first month all about a shutdown.

He offered Democrats a joke deal (temporary three-year DACA protections in exchange for wall funding), but didn’t count on the infotainment grifters accusing him of supporting amnesty. Unable to sustain a shutdown, unable to give Democrats a reasonable deal and unable to please the mouthpieces of Fox News and AM Radio, Trump is starting to spout nonsense that pleases no one in the desperate hope that public opinion will start to shift his direction. His tweet indicates a willingness to support “amnesty” (whatever that means in this context) as part of some broader deal later, while vaguely threatening to perform the impossible and immoral task of simply rounding up 11 million undocumented immigrants for deportation. There’s no strategic plan here, no rhyme or reason–only desperation.

Trump’s supporters have long held that his mercurial unpredictability was an asset in negotiations: “keep ’em guessing” and off balance. But such a strategy can only be effective if the protagonist only appears unpredictable to others, while remaining centered on their own goals and in charge of their own position. Trump is neither. He is waffling in the wind, unable to make promises he can keep to his own base, unable to give up concessions he needs to make to his opponents, and unable to determine what he himself can live with.

It would be foolish and irresponsible for Democrats to make any sort of deal in this context, or to make any unilateral concessions. The only person with the power to end the standoff is Senate Leader Mitch McConnell by pass a clean continuing resolution to fund the government with a veto-proof majority. But that won’t happen until Republican Senators start facing even greater public pressure than they are currently.

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.