Why President Trump’s top supporters are right to panic
With the chatter intensifying about the possibility of President Donald Trump cutting a deal to protect the "dreamers," The Post reports Friday that his loudest supporters are in a fury. They are warning that "the base" will desert him if he commits such a massive betrayal.
But the Post report also tells us something else: His top supporters are letting the mask slip and revealing doubts about whether this will actually end up happening. And this underscores why this moment is so important. Hopefully, it will shed muchneeded light on the true nature of Trump's nationalist appeal to a large swath of the American public – and how deep the ugly side of that appeal really runs.
The most vocal immigration hard-liners who backed Trump in the media and Congress - people such as Ann Coulter, Rep. Steve King, RIowa, and Stephen Bannon and his merry Breitbart warriors – are warning Trump that his voters won't tolerate it if he agrees to legislative protections for hundreds of thousands of people brought here illegally as children, as part of a deal with Dems. But the Post report shows appropriate skepticism toward this notion, and tells us this:
"Yet the lasting political cost of Trump's engagement with top Democrats on immigration remained ambiguous. While Coulter and others vented, several conservative leaders Thursday remained hesitant about breaking with the president publicly given his continued grass-roots support and their desire to focus Republican ire on the leadership in Congress.
"'The jury is still out on whether the base starts to leave him. And I'm not sure what the truth is,' Rep. Steve King, RIowa, said in an interview. 'If this stands and we end up with amnesty, the base that was pulled together because of immigration will start to peel off in significant ways.'
"But, King added, 'No one is quite sure about how this will play out and whether it's truly what we worry it'll be.'"
That is a striking admission: Trump's top supporters – and, heck, the rest of us – simply don't know whether Trump voters will be alienated by a deal protecting the dreamers. They might stick with him if he blesses such a deal, particularly (as I've suggested) if it's packaged with increased border security.
It is often pointed out that the press is overly obsessed with what Trump voters think. That's true. But in this case, it's worth some attention. If it turns out to be true that Trump voters will accept a deal protecting the dreamers, that would suggest that Trump's nationalism – as defined by the likes of Bannon, Breitbart, White House adviser Stephen Miller and the rest of the "populist economic nationalist" contingent around Trump – might not have quite the pull with his voters that we thought. This is clearly what King and others fear – and for good reason.
Remember, when Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced that Trump would rescind protections for the dreamers, he conspicuously claimed these "illegal aliens" steal jobs from American workers. Bannon has come out for getting them to "self deport." Miller is privately scheming to undercut any deal to protect them. The "populist economic nationalist" contingent constantly pushes the line that undocumented immigrants are a destructive, invasive, criminal presence – the dreamers included. But Trump Thursday undercut this narrative by tweeting that the dreamers are blameless for their plight and are making positive contributions to American life. What if a lot of Trump voters end up agreeing with him? That's bad news for the populist-economic-nationalist-snake-oil purveyors.
Will Wilkinson argues that protecting the dreamers shouldn't actually be at odds with populist nationalism, because the dreamers are culturally American, and keeping them here does not undermine the nationalist contingent's vision of cultural nationality. Wilkinson theorizes that those screaming about this deal are really trying to induce Trump to insist on other draconian measures as part of it. That is true: The motive here is also to get poison pills inserted into any deal, driving away Dems and killing it.
But if Trump were to agree to a deal that is not loaded up with a lot of hateful nonsense, and many of his voters supported it, that would not be insignificant. MSNBC's Chris Hayes argues that, even if you accept Trump's victory as fundamentally an assertion of white nationalism, if he, the white guy who is in charge, makes the deals protecting the dreamers, his voters might be fine with it. This would still have horrible implications. But at least it would mean there is not widespread support for carrying out this nationalist agenda by inflicting a humanitarian disaster on this particular vulnerable group, i.e., the dreamers.
That is not what Bannon and his fellow travelers want you to believe. They want you to believe the country is cheering on the enactment of that nationalist agenda and that the only ones objecting are squeamish "elites." Put it this way: If Bannon is correct and there is widespread support for a nationalism that includes inducing hundreds of thousands of young people who were brought here through no fault of their own to return to countries they don't even know, then surely all of the primary challengers to GOP Senate incumbents he intends to back will run on that, right?
To be sure, even if there is a deal on the dreamers that Trump voters accept, all of his other horrors would still be proceeding apace.