Lindsey Graham: It's probably the end of Trump's presidency if he caves on the wall

I’ve been blogging since the Bush presidency, through the war on terror, the rise of Obama, and the rise of Trump. I thought I’d seen it all.

I never imagined an Ann Coulter/Lindsey Graham convergence on immigration.

Is the man known to righties as “Grahamnesty” turning over a new leaf or is he working an angle here? The question answers itself.

“He’s not going to sign a bill that doesn’t have money for the wall. I can tell you exactly how this is going to end. The president is going to challenge Democrats to compromise and if they continue to say no, they’re going to pay the price with the American people,” Graham said during an appearance on Fox News’s “Hannity.”

“If he gives in now, that’s the end of 2019 in terms of him being an effective president,” he continued. “That’s the probably the end of his presidency. Donald Trump has made a promise to the American people. He’s going to secure our border.”

I hope he’s right that Democrats will pay the price if the shutdown drags on. The polling so far hasn’t been encouraging:

Overall, YouGov finds that 48 percent say Trump is most to blame for the shutdown versus 35 percent who say congressional Democrats are. The numbers are basically the same at Morning Consult, where 43 percent say Trump is mostly to blame versus 31 percent who say Democrats are. Not a big deal either way: The shutdown will be long forgotten by 2020. But Democrats are under no pressure from this data to cave on wall funding. To the contrary, because presidents tend to get credit or blame for major events that happen during their terms, the more the shutdown begins to pose a financial hardship for federal employees — which it will soon — the more likely Trump is to start sweating.

So what’s Graham’s game? Three possibilities. One: The new and improved Lindsey Graham 2.0 is a true blue border warrior, ready to shut down the government forever to secure a major win for Trump even though Trump just broke his heart by ordering full withdrawal from Syria. Seems … unlikely. Two: Graham’s mad at Trump for the Syria withdrawal and is looking to stick it to him here, knowing that Trump will eventually have to cave on wall funding. Graham’s raising the stakes on Trump TV, a.k.a. Fox News, so that POTUS’s inevitable surrender is that much more painful to him politically among his base. Anti-Trumpers on Twitter like this theory but I think it’s wishful thinking.

We’re left with the third possibility: He really wants amnesty for DREAMers and he knows this may be his only chance to get it. Both sides are leery of a DREAM-for-wall deal, after all. Democrats don’t want to give Trump money for his pet project under any circumstances so soon after their big House win; meanwhile, nationalists like Coulter and Rush Limbaugh who drove Trump to force a shutdown over the wall will howl if it comes at the price of amnesty. Graham’s trying to push Trump and Democrats together here, first by showing the left that even immigration moderates like him will line up with Trump on the wall this time. They’re going to have to come to the table. But by signaling his loyalty to Trump, he’s also hoping to make POTUS more amenable to his DREAM-for-wall compromise. Essentially, Graham’s offering him a way out of this mess and framing it as best he can as an honorable bargain. This isn’t “Grahamnesty” floating a deal for DREAMers, in other words, this is Lindsey “NO SURRENDER ON THE WALL” Graham floating it. And doing it on “Hannity” to boot, to try to get Trump’s buddy Sean to buy into it. The more comfortable Fox’s audience is with the idea that DREAM-for-wall is a fair deal, the more comfortable Trump will be, and the more likely Graham’s plan will succeed.

Coulter won’t like it — she already expects Trump to “fold in the end” — but as I’ve said more than once, most Trumpers aren’t like Coulter in their relationship to him. They don’t see him as a disposable vehicle towards nationalist policy gains. They see him as their champion. They’re not transactional with him like she is, notes J.J. McCullough:

A November Quinnipiac University poll found that the vast majority of Republicans have enormous, across-the-board confidence in everything about Trump: 82 percent said he had good leadership skills, 77 percent said he was honest, 92 percent said he was intelligent, and 80 percent agreed he was someone who “shares your values.” Trump was given astronomically high approval on the management of basically every issue as well, including 86 percent approval for his handling of “immigration issues.”

When confidence in the president’s competence is this high, failure to achieve policy perfection is rarely held against him. If one begins from a position of unshakable faith that Trump is a wise, honest, skilled leader, then all other perceptions of political reality will revolve around this core truth.

Trump can’t get the wall done? Well, it’s probably the fault of the Democrats. Or the deep state. Or the media. Or Hillary (somehow). Give the man a break!

Correct. No doubt, there’ll be grumbling among populists over whatever deal Trump eventually reaches with Democrats on the wall; Coulter and Limbaugh et al. will see to it. But populist upset on the right towards him is always just one “the president is under siege by his enemies!” news cycle away from fading. There’ll be a day of anger about his failure on the wall and then Mueller will drop his report or Jerrold Nadler will subpoena Don Jr or whatever and then everyone will be back on the team.

Here’s Graham trying to live the DREAM. Exit question: Has Rand Paul’s influence over Trump on foreign policy forced Graham to defend Trump more than he’d like? POTUS loves a toady, and Rand has been toadying his ass off lately vis-a-vis Mitt Romney in order to keep Trump happy with Team Isolationist. If Graham got publicly antagonistic with Trump it would only strengthen Paul’s hand, and Graham knows it.