Donald Trump’s base understandably wigged out when he proposed giving away the store in his latest immigration proposal. The president offered a 10-12 year path to citizenship for 1.8 million DACAns, twice the number anybody was talking about before, and offered not to terminate chain migration until all 4 million in the pipeline are processed, which will take about 15 years.
This, of course, is not what he campaigned on. He won the White House with a campaign that flatly promised an end to amnesty, period. In fact, if he carries through on this proposal, it’s the one thing - the only thing - he could do to alienate his base. So how do we explain this dizzying, head-swiveling change in his immigration proposals?
It’s simple, really. He is not negotiating, he’s maneuvering. He set a trap for the Democrats and they blundered into it at warp speed. I do not believe the president had any intent whatsoever to amnesty two million illegal aliens, but he wanted the Democrats to pull that trigger for him, and that’s exactly what they did.
The ink was still wet on his one-page proposal when Dick Durbin raced to the cameras in a high dudgeon to flatly reject the president’s offer, accusing the president of holding Dreamers “hostage.” Chuck Schumer wasn’t far behind, accusing him of using Dreamers as “a tool to tear apart our legal immigration system.” Politico observed that Schumer’s blunt reaction was a “potentially fatal blow” to an immigration deal.
Trump tipped his hand that this is what he was up to in a Saturday night Tweet:
“I have offered DACA a wonderful deal, including a doubling in the number of recipients & a twelve year pathway to citizenship, for two reasons: (1) Because the Republicans want to fix a long time terrible problem. (2) To show that Democrats do not want to solve DACA, only use it!”
From here on out, Trump will be able to say that it was the Democrats that killed amnesty for the Dreamers. He can vocally remind people of how generous he was prepared to be, even giving an opportunity for illegals who didn’t bother to sign up for DACA to get a grace period. If they try to insert this provision into a new proposal, Trump can say, “No dice. You had a chance because of my big heart to get citizenship for 2 million future Democrat voters, but you blew it by trying to play hard cheese.”
Any number of Democrats have already begun to waver on the wall, expressing a willingness to exchange it for amnesty ("Democrats are probably going to give Trump his border wall"). Now the Goodlatte bill, which is popular with conservatives, does not grant citizenship to Dreamers, but it does grant them legalization, which is without question a form of amnesty since it allows them to stay, live, and work in the United States instead of being shipped home.
So notice the corner Trump has backed his opponents into. Trump wants a border wall, and the Democrats seem about ready to give him one. He does not want to give Dreamers full-blown amnesty, and the Democrats yanked that off the table all by themselves. It looks like the “Art of the Deal” guy is about ready to pick the pockets of the Democrats with their full cooperation. Again.
Now it is certainly possible that my thinking about what the president is thinking is too clever by half. But let’s not forget how aghast conservatives were when he held that roundtable discussion and promised to sign anything they brought to him. Our fears were not realized then, and I don’t believe they will be realized now.
It’s the Democrats who are facing a hard deadline of March 5, when the DACA program officially expires. We’ll see who the last man standing will be on that day. My guess is that it’s going to be Donald Trump.