Issue 6: Sept 9-Sept 15, 2017

THE WEEK IN TRUMP

DACA Saved? This week, in a departure from tradition, Trump sparked more intense outrage on the right than on the left. Although the president is wont to change his mind, as of press time he had said he supports a deal with Democrats in Congress that would preserve DACA—thus saving “Dreamers” from deportation—and that would not include funding for a border wall. Important parts of Trump’s base reacted with shock and dismay. “Families of Illegal Alien Murder Victims Confused, Angered by Possible DACA Deal,” said a Breitbart headline. “At this point, who DOESN’T want Trump impeached?” asked Ann Coulter. Liberal-turned-Trump supporter Mickey Kaus endorsed burning MAGA hats and posting the photos on Twitter.

Title IX Controversy: Education Secretary Betsy DeVos announced that the government would roll back Obama-era changes in how colleges treat accusations of sexual assault—changes that were recently critiqued in The Atlantic.

What Happened Happened: Hillary Clinton returned to the national stage to promote her memoir of the 2016 campaign, reopening old wounds within the Democratic coalition and giving Trump the excuse to once again tweet about “Crooked Hillary.”

 

EDITORIAL: A NEW, MORE MODERATE, SCARIER TRUMP

President Trump, having shocked Washington last week by cutting a debt-ceiling deal with Democrats, this week brought an aftershock, signaling that he would work with Democrats to preserve DACA. Speculation ensued: Are we seeing a new Trump, with a whole new political strategy? Or is it the old Trump with a twist—still addicted to attention, but now seeking the approving attention of mainstream media rather than the outraged attention of mainstream media? Or what?

Who knows? But it’s worth thinking about a strategic turn Trump could take, if he keeps courting congressional Democrats, because this thought experiment is a reminder of how deeply the 2016 election could wind up changing American politics.

Imagine a Trump who continued to show what he showed last week with the debt-ceiling deal: an indifference to blowback from the conservative establishment. Such a Trump could, for example, take seriously the “replace” part of “repeal and replace,” expanding rather than shrinking health care coverage, maybe even going so far as to embrace universal coverage.

This could help him lock down, and probably expand, the support among low-income and middle-income white voters that propelled him into office. And, though expanding health coverage would antagonize free-market conservatives, it wouldn’t necessarily imply a broader shift to the left. Right-wing ethno-nationalist politicians in Europe, such as Marine Le Pen, favor expansive entitlements, though of course they’d like to minimize the number of non-white people who get the citizenship that entails them.

The analogy between Le Pen’s model and this imagined Trump strategy runs into trouble with this week’s collaboration with Democrats—which is, after all, about letting some non-white people who had been slated for expulsion remain in the country, a prospect that doesn’t sit well with the ethno-nationalist part of Trump’s base. White nationalist Richard Spencer favors universal health care, but he’s not down with the Dreamers.

Still, the fact is that Trump could probably hang onto the ethno-nationalist part of his base while moving a bit toward the center on immigration. Where else are these voters going to go, so long as no serious candidate for president is to the right of him on immigration?

If you imagine this version of Trump—now a champion of expanded health care, now more moderate on immigration—you’re imagining a Trump who is in a sense scarier than the old Trump. Having expanded his base, and having subdued some mainstream opposition with his immigration accomodation and other such maneuvers, he would probably stand a better chance of re-election than the old Trump. And yet, notwithstanding the selective movement toward the center that gave him this chance, he would probably retain much of what was initially alarming about him. He would still have contempt for the rule of law and still be corrupt in a financial and more broadly moral sense. He would no doubt still, by and large, appeal to the worst in human nature, including fear and xenophobia (in particular Islamophobia), and his foreign policy would still be an unfortunate mix of clash-of-civilizations fatalism, macho brinksmanship, and semi-random bursts of antagonism.

The point is just that, although some of Trump’s support comes from dark energies—like ethno-nationalism—some of it comes from widespread grievances that Washington hasn’t thoroughly addressed, such as the lack of affordable health care. If he focuses more on the latter and a bit less on the former, he could wind up a much more formidable but not much less alarming president.

During Trump’s political emergence in 2016, there was talk of a political realignment: Trump might turn the Republican Party into a populist nationalist party or might even wind up creating a third party that fit that description. Either way, the idea was that Trump could, by laying claim to more low-to-middle-income voters than have traditionally supported Republicans, secure a base that would allow him to enduringly change America for the worse. Notwithstanding the chaos and drift of his first seven months in office, that prospect remains real, and the last couple of weeks have made it a bit realer.

 

BACKGROUND

Thomas Edsall considers how Trump benefits from political tribalism. Citing evidence that evangelicals are now much less disapproving of politicians’ personal transgressions than they were in pre-Trump times, he writes, “American politics is less a competition of ideas and more a struggle between two teams.”

Lee Fang writes about how conservatives at the University of California, Berkeley are booking controversial speakers in the hopes of provoking a violent reaction from antifa.

Dylan Matthews writes about a new study in the venerable American Economic Journal that tries to quantify the Fox Effect. If Fox News hadn’t existed, the authors argue, the GOP presidential candidate’s share of the two-party vote would have been 3.6 percentage points lower in 2004 (meaning that John Kerry would have won) and 6.3 points lower in 2008.

—by Aryeh Cohen-Wade and Robert Wright with contributions from Colleen Smith and Brian Degenhart