May 18, 2018 | Reading Time: 4 minutes

The GOP Won’t Let Republican Voters See Trump’s Weakness

House Republicans are clashing over Dreamers. The fight might expose the president for what he is.

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President Trump never apologizes, whether he’s misinformed, mistaken, moody, malicious, or whatever. Never apologize, because saying sorry would mean being wrong, and being wrong would mean being weak. And that’s the worst thing that could happen to this president: for other Republicans to see his ontological weakness.

Or so goes the thinking, I presume, among men well into their senior years, white men with plenty of time on their hands to watch Fox News, where they rarely encounter information contravening the carefully cultivated image of Mr. Tough President.

These are surely the voters House Speaker Paul Ryan has in mind as he attempts to block efforts in the House by vulnerable Republicans to do something about people brought illegally to the US as children. Panicked, Republicans from places like upstate New York, New Jersey and Southern California are desperate to prove their sanity and give constituents good reason for giving them another chance in November.

But, as the Washington Post’s Greg Sargent noted, Ryan is doing his level best to sandbag the effort, because doing so boosts the odds of keeping the House under Republican control. Why? Greg points to voter turnout as reason. The GOP leadership fears that a Dreamer bill would obscure the party’s messaging on tax cuts and other things. I trust Greg is correct, but I think there’s another way of looking at it.

If a Republican-controlled House passed a bill protecting Dreamers, Republicans would be signaling to other Republicans that the president is wrong to have taken a cruel stand against immigrants who cannot be blamed for their legal jeopardy.

That can’t be allowed to happen, because if Trump is wrong, Trump is weak, and nothing could be farther from the truth, according to the deeply warped worldview consumed every day for hours on end by the very people the Republicans need to win.

Put another way, immigration is wedging the GOP. This is not new. What is new, however, is another kind of wedge: the president’s demonstrable weakness, and the leadership’s effort to prevent Republican voters from seeing it.

Everyone else can see it.

CNBC’s John Harwood made a laundry list after the president promised to help China bring back manufacturing jobs. It was a jaw-dropping reversal. Where was the man railing against that country on the campaign trail? Where was the candidate accusing the world’s second-largest economy of cheating and stealing American jobs.

Nowhere to be found, Harwood said. Indeed, it’s a familiar pattern: “Facing powerful adversaries, the tough-talking president usually shrinks from a fight.”

It’s not just China, Harwood said. After talking tough about Russia, the NRA, drug prices, and Wall Street—tough talk that made him appear to be a rogue Republican ready to drain the swamp and rewrite the rules of Washington—Trump backed off.

Every. Single. Time.

Nicholas Burns, a U.S. diplomat under presidents of both parties and now a professor at Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government, told Harwood:

“For all his bluster, one of the surprising takeaways from Trump’s 16 months as president is how cowed he often is by the strong men of international politics.”

But it’s not surprising.

Recall Trump’s famous claim that Mexico would pay for “a big, beautiful wall” on the southern border. Every day, he told Republicans rallying to his side in 2016 that America would not only build a way, America would send Mexico the bill.

When he had a chance in August of that year, however, to tell Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto to his face that Mexico, poor as it is, was going to bend a knee to America and pay for something it didn’t want, Trump—again—backed off.

He also lied about it. He told reporters, no, he and Nieto had not discussed the wall, which was bizarre on its own given how much hay Trump was making with voters on claiming that Mexico would pay for the wall. Then it turns out, yes, they had discussed the wall, and that Nieto flat out told him it ain’t gonna happen.

(Translation: “At the beginning of the conversation with Donald Trump, I made it clear that Mexico will not pay for the wall.” [My emphasis])

The next day, at rally in Arizona, after news of Nieto rebuffing the tough-talking candidate who said Mexico was going to pay for the border wall, Trump said Mexico was going to pay for the border wall—as if the previous day never existed.

This is madness to sane people, people like vulnerable House Republicans believing they must act to protect Dreamers or they are going to pay a price in November.

But madness is jim-dandy to white senior citizens, mostly men, with plenty of time on their hands to watch hours of Fox News, where they rarely encounter information contravening Trump’s carefully cultivated image of Mr. Tough President.

The Republicans are betting that an aging white population is going to bail them out this year. That’s a good bet, as long as the party’s leadership is able to stop other Republicans from seeing the president for what everyone else has seen for years.

This president is weak.

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John Stoehr is the editor of the Editorial Board. He writes the daily edition. Find him @johnastoehr.

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