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politics

Breaking Down Trump's Toothless Twitter Freakout About Mexico

There he goes again.

by Harry Cheadle
Apr 2 2018, 7:05pm

Donald Trump spent Easter Sunday the way he seems to spend most days: angry at something he probably saw on Fox News and tweeting only semi-coherently about it.

This time, his target was a "caravan" of hundreds of Central American migrants traveling north through Mexico to the US that BuzzFeed first reported on last week and was featured on Fox & Friends Sunday morning. His take on it was exactly what you'd expect:

Trump continued to tweet about it early Monday, before reiterating the same sentiment in person at the White House Easter Egg Roll, as the New York Times reported. Here are his Monday tweets about Mexico:

As is the norm with these tweetstorms, Trump appears to get some basic facts wrong. Migrants seeking to cross the US border now can't "take advantage" of DACA, a program allowing some people who were brought to the US as children to stay in the country, because DACA only applies to people who have lived in the US since 2007. (Unnamed White House sources told the Times that Trump was actually referring to the misconception among migrants themselves that they can get legal status if they come to the US now—a bit of context utterly absent from Trump's tweets.)

Moreover, DACA isn't "dead." The program is still accepting renewal applications thanks to a court ruling declaring it has to remain active while a legal battle over Trump's decision to end it plays out. And it's Trump, not Democrats, who have moved to kill it: It was Trump's executive order to shutter the Obama-era program that put DACA at risk in the first place, and in a series of votes in February Senate Democrats backed multiple compromises that would have given DACA-eligible migrants a pathway to citizenship while boosting border security. The only compromise Democrats opposed virtually in lockstep was one that would have dramatically slashed legal immigration, and they were joined by several Republicans in rejecting that idea.



Finally, as the right-of-center free-market group the US Chamber of Commerce has pointed out, NAFTA doesn't just benefit Mexico but a lot of manufacturers and farmers in states that voted for Trump. (Of course, Trump generally views trade agreements as zero-sum games where one side has to win and the other has to lose, a perspective that is at odds with most economists and other experts. Even left-wingers who dislike NAFTA tend to do so because they say it hurts workers, not because it benefits Mexico more than the US.)

But if fact-checking Trump's rants seems necessary (he is the president, after all), it also tends to be tedious and besides the point. To put it bluntly, none of the stuff he's talking about is likely to become real outside of this man's head. It might fire up his nativist base, but won't accomplish much else. After all, nothing has happened that would make Congress more amenable to passing immigration-related legislation than it was just weeks ago, when it failed to do anything. In fact, just about the only thing that could end the deadlock would be if Trump decided to agree to the compromise that's been on the table for years but has been blocked by right-wing opposition: Giving some undocumented immigrants a path to citizenship while improving border security. And if Trump is trying to prod Mexico into making concessions on NAFTA negotiations, it's not clear that that's going to work—Mexico is in the middle of a presidential campaign, and Trump's Twitter rant caused both leading candidates to fire back at him. (An anti-Trump, left-wing candidate is currently leading in the polls.)

Maybe Trump is playing some whatever-dimensional chess with both Congress and Mexico. But at the moment, his tirade reads more like pointless wheel-spinning. Legislators aren't likely to get much done before the midterm elections and Trump's immigration initiatives (which, again, include ending DACA or at least trading DACA for restrictions on legal immigration) have been stymied by the courts and congressional gridlock. And while NAFTA negotiations are a complicated beast, even observers who think Trump is deploying a decent strategy doubt he'll scuttle the whole deal. Again, if he did, it might mean real economic problems for his base.

Just a couple weeks ago, Trump signed a budget deal that didn't include funding for his famous but hypothetical wall after making toothless Twitter threats about vetoing it. These new tweets on DACA and NAFTA seem similarly all bark, no bite—the knee-jerk reaction of a Fox News viewer frustrated at his powerlessness. Why is Trump ranting about this stuff on Twitter? It's all he can do.

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