Jordan Fabian and Jonathan Easley, The Hill, September 18, 2017
President Trump is betting that his base will give him wide latitude to pursue an immigration deal with Democrats despite the outburst of anger from prominent voices on the right.
Conservative pundits like Ann Coulter and Laura Ingraham denounced Trump’s pursuit of an agreement as a betrayal. GOP Rep. Steve King (Iowa) warned the president risked fracturing his base.
But other prominent Trump supporters, including pundits Sean Hannity, Rush Limbaugh and the hosts of “Fox and Friends,” gave him cover.
Many of the conservatives criticizing Trump were cheering him just a week earlier, when he followed through on his promise to phase out the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program.
Trump enjoys strong backing from his core supporters: 98 percent of Republicans who voted for him in the 2016 primary still support him, according to a recent NBC News-Wall Street Journal poll.
On Friday, Trump tacitly acknowledged his newfound love for bipartisanship carries political risk.
The president rallied supporters with a string of tough-talking early morning tweets on the terror attack at London subway station and an ESPN host who called him a white supremacist.
He also reassured his backers that “CHAIN MIGRATION cannot be allowed to be part of any legislation on Immigration!”
By not demanding wall funding be attached to a DACA bill, Trump supporters say he is giving away his most valuable bargaining chip.
Trump once bragged that his supporters are so loyal, he could shoot someone in the street and he would not lose support. Dan Stein, president of the Federation for American Immigration Reform, said Trump’s proposed DACA deal would put that notion to the test.
“Donald Trump would have been better off going onto Fifth Avenue and shooting someone,” said Stein, whose group favors lower levels of both legal and illegal immigration. “He said his base wouldn’t care if he did that. The base cares about this.”
Stein speculated the president might be “convinced that dealing on DACA will win him new supporters” who could help him win in 2020.
In the short term, conservatives’ anger at Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) and Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) has provided a buffer for Trump against the backlash from his base.
Frustration with the GOP leaders gave Trump room to break with them and strike an agreement with Democrats on a deal to extend the nation’s borrowing limit and fund the government.
That dynamic could persist until Republicans begin notching legislative victories of their own.
“He has such a diverse coalition and his base elected him knowing that he isn’t overly ideological,” said a GOP consultant who requested anonymity. “Poll after poll shows that Republicans will blame Ryan and McConnell every single time, so he has leeway here.”
But the consultant warned that cover might not last forever, because “it’s never a good sign to have key influencers turn their backs.”
Key figures on the right warn that immigration is a different animal from other policy areas.
Trump’s tough talk on the issue was a major reason why the right rallied behind him in 2016 over GOP establishment figures like former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush (R) and Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.).
“He succeeded in the primary because of immigration,” Stein said. “He would not have won the primary if he had taken a stance on DACA amnesty, [Sen.] Ted Cruz would have won. The base simply will not accept this.”