You know it’s killing this guy not to be on camera every day scolding Trump in his usual “that’s not who we are” terms but that would be a strategic disaster so obvious that silence is really the only option. A “Trump vs. Obama” fight over almost any issue would unify most of the right behind the president and O knows it; the most brutal thing he can do to Trump is to deny him that our-guy-versus-their-guy dynamic. I don’t think it’s crazy to believe that Trump’s job approval would be five to 10 points higher if Obama had spent the last seven months sniping at him regularly. By withholding his criticism, he’s made it possible for “soft” Republicans and right-leaning independents to criticize POTUS without fear of being accused that they’re carrying O’s water.
But that’s about to change, and possibly for good strategic reasons.
Former President Barack Obama plans to speak out if President Donald Trump declares his intention to end the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, according to a person close to Obama…
Obama’s current plan is to post a statement on Facebook and link to it on Twitter, where the former president has more than 94 million followers. In his final presidential press availability, he suggested that he would speak out if Trump went after the Dreamers — and that it was one of the few issues where he would feel morally compelled to do so. He said he would not remain silent in the face of “efforts to round up kids who have grown up here and for all practical purposes are American kids, and send them someplace else, when they love this country.”…
“Back to a country they don’t know with a language they don’t speak?” the person close to Obama said. “It’s cruel.”
Even with Trump set to nuke one of Obama’s signature programs and O convinced that he needs to say something, he so fears becoming a useful partisan foil for Trump that he’ll deny him a video soundbite. The critique will be delivered via social media, not in front of a camera where it would be replayed endlessly on the news to irritate Republicans in a visceral way.
Why attack Trump now? I think there’s more to it than DACA just being near and dear to Obama’s heart. He knows that congressional Republicans are going to be jammed up here to an unusual degree. Immigration is a fraught issue for the GOP under the best of circumstances but DREAMers are an especially hard case due to their having come here as children. They’re the one class of illegals about whom even Trump speaks warmly. In fact, the president’s going to end DACA not because he wants to but because Republican AGs are squeezing him to do so, replete with the threat of a court battle; even then, Trump is still so reluctant to pull the plug that he’s willing to hold off for another six months. The entire GOP (apart from Steve King) will spend those six months telling every voter who listens that they’re open to legalizing DREAMers. All they ask in return is some face-saving security measures so that they can semi-plausibly argue to their base that they didn’t roll over completely on amnesty.
Having Obama wade in publicly on the side of DREAMers will complicate all of that. With O banging the drum for amnesty, Republican voters who are lukewarm on the idea in the first place will start to turn frosty. Populists will have a field day attacking Ryan and McConnell (and Trump?) for essentially doing Obama’s bidding by negotiating for a DREAM bill. Some congressional Republicans might start to get cold feet. The more hostile Trump and the congressional GOP become towards a DREAM deal as part of a backlash towards Obama, the more ammo Schumer will have to say that Republicans are being cruel to poor illegal children whose only mistake was trusting the federal government. The whole GOP “we like DREAMers too!” messaging effort will be scrambled. Either negotiations will end up collapsing in Congress, with Dems using the DREAM failure against Republicans next fall, or Trump, Ryan, and McConnell will have to swallow hard and approve an amnesty cheered on by Barack farking Obama, which is about the RINO-iest move a modern Republican is capable of making. Either the GOP base ends up angry at the White House or everyone else does. Obama “speaking out” is tinder for the match Trump is about to strike.
Needless to say, the Democratic front on this will be united from the jump. Neoliberals will be all-in, led by their hero Obama. Socialists will be all-in too, led by their own hero:
Taking legal protections away from 800,000 young people raised in this country is absolutely counter to what we stand for as a nation.
— Bernie Sanders (@SenSanders) September 4, 2017
If Trump ends DACA, Congress must act immediately to restore it.
— Bernie Sanders (@SenSanders) September 4, 2017
Here’s a two-fer for you to illustrate the thorny politics ahead for Republicans. The Obama clip is from his last press conference, two days before the inauguration, when he said that Trump rescinding DACA is one of the things that might get him to re-enter the political fray. The other clip is of Trump nemesis Jeff Flake warning that he’s a yes on a DREAM amnesty but a no on demanding a border wall in return, which means McConnell starts with just 51 votes on the sort of package Trump might accept when he needs 60.