David Frum: Trump Has Defeated Himself

Carolyn Kaster / AP

The president, trapped without a decent exit in a predicament of his own making, will yield everything and get nothing.

Well, that was the shortest, most easily resolved national emergency in U.S. history. Twelve hours ago, the president was preparing to set aside the regular process of law. By 9 p.m. eastern time? Not so much.

Perhaps somebody pointed out that 15-year civil-engineering projects do not look very convincingly like emergency measures. “My house is burning! Time to begin the process of calling for design proposals for a new fire station.”

President Donald Trump is about to discover the reverse side of Richard Neustadt’s famous observation that the most important presidential power is the power to persuade. Trump’s conduct as candidate and president long ago deprived him of any power to persuade anyone not already predisposed to support him. To date, Trump has governed by leveraging his high approval rating within the Republican Party. From the point of view of former Speaker Paul Ryan and Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, Trump’s 90 percent approval rating among Republicans mattered a lot more than his 39 percent approval rating among Americans in general.

Read: What was the point of Trump’s Oval Office address?

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi is not susceptible to that “majority of the minority” logic. What she has to worry about is Trump’s strength among Democratic-leaning voters. That strength, Trump squandered long ago.

There is a real immigration problem on the border. Central American migrants have figured out that by showing up at the border in family units, they will be admitted into the country pending the adjudication of an asylum claim. The asylum system is overwhelmed, adjudications take months or years—and long before then, the would-be migrants can vanish into the U.S. labor market. Few Central Americans prevail in their asylum claims. Almost all end up staying, anyway.

The solution to that problem is not a lengthy process of design, tendering, land expropriation, grading, and construction. The solution is to get more adjudicators into the asylum system now. If cases are resolved fast, and border-crossers removed promptly, the surge of asylum seekers will abate, as it abated in 2015 after the Barack Obama administration cracked down on the 2014 Central American border surge.

But Trump has never wanted a solution. He has wanted a divisive issue and a personal monument. Futile though that monument may be, he could have gotten it, too, had he been willing to trade something attractive to Democrats. But Trump was never willing to bargain. Senate Republicans would not let him: They saw no point in the border wall, and were unwilling to barter for it.

George Packer: The suicide of a great democracy

Read full article at The Atlantic

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