Everyone has noticed by now that Donald Trump is no longer even attempting to stick with the script, evidently feeling that he’s been ill-served by people who observe political norms and common definitions of what it is to be a president of the United States. He’s starting trade wars, declaring an abrupt withdrawal from Syria and attacking businessmen who also own newspapers he wants to quash. He’s been animated and energized by this newfound freedom to “tell it like it is” as he did on Thursday at a tax forum in West Virginia, where he claimed to be the first president in 40 years to deliver on taxes because only he had the guts to demand “tax cuts” instead of tax reform.
As is now the required ritual at any meeting where Trump appears, other speakers at the forum dutifully flattered and praised him. One attendee was nearly crying as she thanked him for the tax cuts, saying, “Thank you for listening to us. Thank you for fighting for us.”
But despite this demonstration of loyalty and commitment, Trump is showing all the signs of a man who senses that his lover is unhappy with him. He’s bringing home gifts and flowers to show how much he cares. He’s hearing from friends that he’s been a disappointment because he hasn’t fulfilled that yuuuge promise he made when they were courting, the one that sealed the deal. He hasn’t built that big beautiful wall.
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Ann Coulter is one of the only 45 people Trump follows on twitter and she retweeted this so he would see it:
— Breitbart News (@BreitbartNews) April 3, 2018
Radio host Mark Levin went ballistic:
Build the damn wall! You got the House. You got the Senate. You got the presidency. You got the bureaucracy. The art of the deal, screw the art of the deal. It should be the art of the victory. The art of victory. It’s time to roll Schumer. It’s time to roll the Democrats.
There is ample reporting that Trump is having frequent dinner parties with his Fox News kitchen cabinet, both down in Mar-a-Lago and at the White House, and is hearing personally from the likes of Jeanine Pirro and Sean Hannity that the base is restless.
Trump’s problem is that Congress didn’t fund his wall beyond a “mere” $1.6 billion, which he considers an insult, and which his followers have been convinced is a capitulation on his part. They’re right about that. The White House was heavily involved in all the negotiations and agreed to the numbers. Evidently the master negotiator was busy tweeting and didn’t have time to do the kind of magical arm-twisting that he promised makes such deals “easy.”
He seemed to be taken by surprise when he tuned in his top political advisory panel on “Fox & Friends” on the morning of the bill-signing ceremony and learned that they were not happy. (He briefly threatened to veto the bill and single-handedly shut down the government, but was talked out of it.) He’s been on a tear ever since, trying to appease those folks with some of that old-time demagoguery and the promise of bringing down the hammer on immigrants in some other satisfying way.
At first he indicated that he’d just have the military build the wall. He seems to think the federal budget is like the books at his Taj Mahal casino in Atlantic City. where when he came up short to pay the bills he could just shift cash around to keep up appearances. Or maybe he figures the military budget is now so bloated that it’s got billions just sitting around gathering dust, which may be true. Unfortunately, he doesn’t control the books or sign the checks in the federal budget. So he’d have to get congressional approval for such a scheme, which that doesn’t look likely.
He fulminated about it over the weekend and really got going after the Sunday “Fox & Friends” crew discussed an annual “caravan” of migrants from Central America. These are people seeking political asylum, for the most part, who make the trek to the border through Mexico to draw attention to their plight and travel in the safety of the spotlight. The Fox hosts interviewed Brandon Judd, president of the Border Patrol Council, who claimed these migrants would all be released into the United States, endangering decent people everywhere:
They’re going to wait for a immigration reform, and they’re going to create havoc and chaos. I mean, how many times do we have to hear stories of United States citizens being killed by people that are here illegally before we actually do something?”
Trump’s flurry of angry tweets about immigrants flowing over the border to “take advantage of DACA” (which makes no sense since you had to be in the country before 2011 to qualify) was obviously inspired by his commentary, including his repeated insistence that the Senate should end the filibuster to fix the problem. (He has apparently forgotten that he couldn’t even get a bare majority in the Senate, because so many Republicans refused to sign on to his immigration plan.)
None of this appeased the president’s right-wing critics. But when he started talking about sending troops to the border, they got excited:
Are they going to shoot the illegals? Just standing there doesn’t do a thing. We need to do what Israel does: immediate detention and removal. https://t.co/byXxDbG2po
— Ann Coulter (@AnnCoulter) April 4, 2018
Trump has been going on about changing the laws to make it easier to deport people so it’s fair to assume he and Coulter are on the same wavelength there.
At the tax event in West Virginia on Thursday, the president threw away his script about the tax cuts and went on a long xenophobic rant, once again evoking his notorious announcement speech in which he claimed that Mexican immigrants were rapists and criminals. He once again made lurid remarks about girls being “cut up” by MS-13 gang members. It’s an image he has disturbingly evoked in other contexts, including a creepy impression of the thug in the 1970s movie “Death Wish” saying. “I’m gonna cut you up.” He once again claimed that in California undocumented immigrants vote by the millions and the state is “guarding their records,” another pathetic attempt to imply that he actually won the popular vote.
Referencing that awful announcement speech, Trump claimed he’d just learned that the caravan in Mexico was full of rapists, saying, “Women are raped at levels never seen before.” Nobody knows where he got that from: He just blurted it out. It may have been the ugliest and most xenophobic speech he’s given since the beginning of his 2016 campaign, a rambling assault on foreigners, immigrants and the states where many of them live. It was nauseating.
It’s obvious Trump is worried about this mini-rebellion on the right. It remains to be seen whether sending some National Guard troops to the border (a largely symbolic move) and this kind of crude demagoguery will quell it. If not, we could be in for a messy fight between Trump and his followers. The losers, as always, will be immigrants and refugees.