Washington, D.C. erupted into pandemonium yesterday when President Donald Trump, the same guy who pledged to deport 11 million illegal immigrants during his campaign rallies, reportedly came to an understanding with Democratic leaders Chuck Schumer and Nancy Pelosi as to the status of the Dreamers.
Trump may not want to call it an agreement yet (and neither do the Democrats), but the mere reality that he and the Democratic leadership are “fairly close” to a deal is a giant leap forward. If someone had predicted during the early months of his presidency that Trump and the man he called “Cryin’ Chuck” would be able to work together constructively on extending the debt ceiling, funding the federal government, codifying the DACA program and increasing border security, all in less than a few weeks, that person would have been prescribed a generous dose of medication.
The obvious question is why Trump is now so accommodating when it comes to the two most powerful Democrats in the country.
The deal the president hashed out with Schumer and Pelosi on Sept. 6 already had plenty of Republicans hot under the collar. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) and House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wisc.) might as well have been part of the furniture during those discussions. This compromise over the Dreamers, however, is rubbing salt in a festering wound, both for Republicans and diehard nationalists who stuck with the president during his worst days on the campaign trail because of his uncompromising platform on illegal immigration.
So what gives? Here are three possible explanations:
Good press: After the debt/government funding/hurricane relief measure sailed through Congress, Trump woke up the next morning to some positive press coverage. The words “Trump” and “good news cycle” aren’t often in the same sentence; Harvard University and the Media Research Center have come out with studies showing the bad stories outweigh the good most of the time. Now, for once, the networks weren’t talking about Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s inquiry or the staff infighting in the West Wing, but rather about a Republican president working with liberal Democrats. Perhaps Trump has found the secret to generating good press: strike deals with the Dems.
An accomplishment: Trump just wants to get something done. He has presided over the most unproductive eight months of any presidential administration in the modern era. No major bills have gotten through, his travel ban executive order has been stuck in the courts, Gallup recorded his approval rating last week at 36 percent and he has had to delay his “big, beautiful wall” over and over again. Trump knows he needs notches on his belt if he’s going to seriously compete in the 2020 election against what could be a formidable Democratic challenger (and maybe even a strong Republican primary candidate). As he told reporters at the White House yesterday: “If we can’t get things passed then we have to go a different route. We have to get things passed.” By “we,” he really means “I.”
Striking a deal: During the presidential campaign, Trump marketed himself as a dealmaker who has the boardroom smarts to cut through the bureaucracy and inertia of Washington to get things done for the American people. A terrific way to flaunt those dealmaking chops was shaking hands with his Democratic opponents. In this scenario, Schumer and Pelosi are more props in Trump’s play than actors, perfect scenery to help Americans realize what a masterful negotiator he truly is. Nationalists like Rep. Steve King (R-Iowa) and the editors of Breitbart might attack the deals themselves, but for Trump, adjourning the discussions with a signed agreement is just as important as what the agreement ultimately looks like.
Trump may have run on the GOP ticket, but his true form is a chameleon untethered to ideology. He’ll work with the Democrats as long as it benefits his political standing. When it’s no longer useful, Ryan and McConnell will start getting calls again.