Trump's two crutches: Immigration and trade

In other words, as my colleague Peter Nicholas explained last week, Mueller’s remarks further inflamed Trump’s anger toward the special counsel. So while his tariff announcement was in many ways a surprise, it also had a tinge of inevitability. According to current and former aides, who requested anonymity to speak freely, when Trump feels he has lost control of the narrative, he grasps at two issues: border security and trade. Those aides said he sees these topics as reset buttons, ways to rile both Democratic and Republican lawmakers and draw attention away from whatever dumpster fire is blazing in a given week. “Whenever a negative story comes around, his instinct is to pivot to immigration or trade,” a senior campaign adviser told me. “It’s kind of like his safety blanket. He knows that Fox and conservative media will immediately coalesce and change what the base is talking about.”…

One former senior White House official explained Trump’s instincts as a function of his intractable belief that the American people support his policies on immigration and trade, even if party leaders do not. As the source put it to me, the president thrives on the warm reception he receives at rallies and believes that those policies fuel it. The former official pointed to another time when Trump surprised his advisers by levying tariffs: In March 2018, in off-the-cuff remarks during a meeting with steel and aluminum executives, Trump announced the beginning of a global trade war by promising a 25 percent tariff on steel imports and a 10 percent tariff on aluminum imports. In this case, the former official said, Trump’s snap decision was not so much a way to distract from a particular news cycle as it was the result of “feeling good in the moment” as he bantered cheerfully with the executives. Put another way, dramatic moves on trade and immigration are not only a balm for Trump in times of distress, but also a gloss on moments already going smoothly.

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