Long before he was a politician, Donald Trump was a showman. So it’s telling that on the biggest political story of the week, the great impresario of nativist backlash politics has decided to make himself scarce. Instead of announcing his plan to kill the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program with a six-month delay personally, Trump is letting Jeff Sessions act as the star of the DACA episode of the Trump Show.
That’s no comfort to the 800,000 people — and the millions of family members, friends, and co-workers who depend on them — whose lives are about to be thrown into chaos. But it’s a great reflection of the fundamental cowardice with which Trump has faced this issue. Rather than own up to his own decision and defend it, Trump this morning tweeted an exhortation to Congress to step up and solve the problem for him in some unspecified way.
Congress, get ready to do your job - DACA!— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) September 5, 2017
Trump has let himself get jammed-up by nativist politicians who are more ideologically serious than he is. But rather than owning that decision — and taking the hit with the broad public and the business community that would entail — he’s trying to punt, fudge, and avoid responsibility.
Trump’s key priority in the DACA debate hasn’t involved any sort of policy goal at all. Instead, he’s been making a dual effort to avoid an open breach with Sessions and his network of nativist politicians while also trying to avoid becoming the face of the turn against DACA.
This means Trump, whose advisers have said privately was seeking to avoid saying "Im ending this," isn't doing it— Maggie Haberman (@maggieNYT) September 5, 2017
The precipitating event for the breakdown in this strategy is a threatened lawsuit from the attorney general of Texas joined by several other hard-right AGs. They planned to sue, arguing that DACA represented an overstepping of federal authority over immigration. Since the Trump administration in the travel ban cases has already argued that executive discretion over immigration matters is unlimited, they can’t genuinely believe the Texas case is right on the merits.
But Sessions — who successfully stood up to a Trump bullying effort over Robert Mueller this summer — is an anti-immigration true believer and seems to have told Trump he wouldn’t fight the lawsuit.
Too weak to stand up to his own attorney general thanks to earlier blunders, and too politically insecure to stand up to far-right state attorneys general, Trump is now blundering into a policy that’s both cruel and unpopular. And rather than work out a policy solution to avoid that outcome, he’s working out a solution whose main point is to try to let him personally duck responsibility.