How Many Supporters Do Trump’s Conservative Critics on DACA Have?
In parts of the conservative media, this is a day of outrage and mourning. “At this point, who DOESN’T want Trump impeached?” Ann Coulter, the columnist and author, demanded on Twitter early in the day. Lou Dobbs, of Fox Business News, was also in high dudgeon. “Who stole White House?” he demanded. “Morning tweets sound like Obama, maybe Clinton, not #MAGA, not #AmericaFirst not @realDonaldTrump #TrumpTrain #DTS.”
These outbursts came in the aftermath of a Chinese-food dinner that Donald Trump shared at the White House on Wednesday night with Nancy Pelosi and Chuck Schumer. After the dinner, the two Democrats announced that they and Trump had reached an agreement on maintaining legal protections for Dreamers, undocumented immigrants who arrived in this country as minors, with no concessions on funding the border wall with Mexico that Trump has long called for. The White House and Trump himself then sent mixed signals about just what was agreed to at the dinner, spurring Breitbart, the right-wing Web site run by Trump’s former adviser Steve Bannon, to run a headline calling the President “Amnesty Don.” On Thursday morning, Trump issued a series of tweets in which he denied striking a deal but added, “Does anybody really want to throw out good, educated and accomplished young people who have jobs, some serving in the military? Really! . . . . .”
The best response to that tweet came from David Axelrod, Barack Obama’s former adviser. “Uh . . . have you spoken with your AG lately?” Axelrod wrote, referring to Attorney General Jeff Sessions, who looked downright giddy last week when he announced that the Administration was ending Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, the federal policy that protects Dreamers from deportation. As Trump departed for Florida later on Thursday morning, he further enraged conservatives by telling reporters that a bipartisan deal on preserving DACA was in fact “pretty close,” and adding, “Mitch”—McConnell, the Senate Majority Leader—“is on board, Paul Ryan”—the House Speaker—“is on board. Look, ninety-two per cent of the people agree on DACA. But what we want is very, very powerful border security.”
“Border security” hasn’t been enough to placate Trump’s sudden critics on the right. Returning to the fray on Twitter, Coulter wrote, ”Let’s play Jeopardy. ANSWER: An Easter egg. QUESTION: What’s the only thing easier to roll than Donald J. Trump?” A bit later, she added, “Looks like Bannon got it wrong. That shadowy force trying to nullify the 2016 election . . . is @realDonaldTrump.” Conservative news sites continued to mock the President that they have hitherto supported. Breitbart led with a headline that said, “THE WALL WILL COME LATER.” The Drudge Report ran with “DREAM TEAM,” next to photographs of Trump and Pelosi.
As a spectator sport, this was all very entertaining. When things calm down a bit, one question will be whether the views of Coulter and Breitbart are representative of Trump’s ordinary supporters. Was Steve King, the hard-line Republican congressman from Iowa, right when he said that if Trump makes a deal that preserves DACA but doesn’t involve the wall, his base will be “blown up, destroyed, irreparable, and disillusioned beyond repair”? I very much doubt it.
For one thing, Trump insists that he isn’t talking about a legal amnesty for Dreamers, which, as it is usually defined, would involve providing them with some sort of path to citizenship. “We’re not looking at citizenship,” he told reporters in Florida. “We’re not looking at amnesty. We’re looking at allowing people to stay here.” There is confusion at the White House on this point, however. On Thursday, a White House spokesperson told reporters that while “there will be no amnesty,” the Administration was considering “legal citizenship over a period of time.” Still, Trump seems to be leaning toward providing the Dreamers with permanent residency status, which would allow them to live and work in the United States indefinitely but wouldn’t grant them full citizenship rights, such as the right to vote.
Trump isn’t without his defenders on the right, either. The Koch brothers and some other conservative G.O.P. donors have long supported immigration reform. Last week, a spokesman for the Kochs’ political network said it would support a deal to preserve DACA. For this and other reasons, Trump may well be right when he says that the Republican leadership in Congress will fall in line behind him. Earlier this week, Paul Ryan said, “I do believe that kicking these eight hundred thousand kids out to countries they have probably not been to since they were toddlers . . . is not in our nation’s interest.” On Thursday, Ryan said that Trump would have to “work with the congressional majorities to get any kind of legislative solution,” which was only stating the obvious. McConnell’s office released a statement that said, “We look forward to receiving the Trump administration’s legislative proposal as we continue our work on these issues.”
The most important thing to remember in all this may be the argument made by Chris Collins, the pro-Trump Republican congressman from New York, who says that Trump’s supporters are capable of distinguishing between Dreamers, who didn’t have any choice about coming to the United States, and other undocumented immigrants. “For what it’s worth, I’ve seen/done enough polling that suggests most Republicans are A-OK w DACA esp if they’re told Trump backs it,” Kristen Anderson, a Republican pollster, tweeted. A recent poll that the research firm Morning Consult carried out for Politico backed up Anderson’s point. It indicated that sixty-nine per cent of Republicans believe the Dreamers should be allowed to stay in the United States, and fifty-seven per cent believe they should be given work permits. Among Republicans who said they strongly approve of Trump’s job performance, these figure were lower—but even in this group, less than half of the respondents (forty-five per cent) said that the Dreamers should be removed or deported.
Numbers like these suggest that Trump has more freedom to maneuver on this issue than Coulter, Bannon, and their allies would like him to have. Indeed, Trump may be moved to respond to his conservative critics in the same way that Josef Stalin responded to a suggestion, from the French Foreign Minister Pierre Laval, that he should ease up on persecuting Catholics. “The Pope?” Stalin is reputed to have said. “How many divisions has he got?”