Emboldened By End of Mueller, Trump Sycophants Push Trump to Overreach on Policy

The zealots know an opportunity when they see one.

Our republic’s experiment in government-by-tweet continued on Friday. That is when President Trump announced on Twitter that he will close “large sections” of the southern border next week if Mexico does not stop “ALL illegal immigration” by then:

This is the second significant policy move — or what passes for a policy move in the haunted funhouse that is the Trump administration — that the president has made this week. In both, he seems to be getting urged on by ideological zealots who see the end of the Mueller probe as an opportunity for Trump to seize momentum for pushing through promises he has made to his base.

The first policy move came on Monday night, when the Department of Justice announced it would not defend the federal government in the appeal of a lawsuit against the Affordable Care Act. In fact, the DOJ announced it would actually join the lawsuit’s supporters in asking the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals to affirm it, which would annihilate the ACA.

The administration is pushing this new position despite the fact that the lawsuit is considered so atrocious, and the reasoning of the district judge who initially ruled in its favor so specious, that no career DOJ lawyer in any corner of the department would sign onto the motion.

Republicans in Congress were horrified. If the ACA were to be repealed, the GOP would be on the hook for coming up with a decent replacement that offers the same wide swath of protections as Obamacare. This is something the party has repeatedly failed to do for a decade, but most notably in the two years they controlled both chambers of Congress under Trump. No Republican in Congress wants this fight again. And with Democrats in control of the House, any bill they write would have to have significant concessions to their opponents. All while heading into an election year where conservative activists will try to primary anyone who does not show unshakable loyalty to the right.

Within a day, leaks to the media indicated that Trump had been pushed into this move by, among others, Mick Mulvaney, his acting chief of staff. Mulvaney is a right-wing zealot who rose to Congress in the Tea Party wave of 2010 and helped found the House Freedom Caucus, the hard-right group of representatives whose refusal to compromise on any issue has helped drive the House into near-permanent gridlock.

On the border closing, Trump has been pushed by anti-immigration fanatics on his favorite news channels. First there was Rush Limbaugh. The corpulent yacker, who got a shout-out from the president during Thursday night’s rally, said during an interview with Bret Baier that Trump should announce “he’s closing the border and shutting down immigration until we can get a handle on it.”

Another prominent case has been Lou Dobbs, the Fox Business Network host and avowed xenophobe. On Thursday night, just before Trump took the stage at a rally in Michigan, Dobbs and his guests were pushing the president to close the border. Dobbs pitched the move as a “reward” for all the Trump supporters who have stuck with him during the Mueller investigation for almost two years. Meanwhile, Dobbs’ guest Betsy McCaughey moaned that Americans “are getting raped by all the expensiveness” of housing migrants seeking asylum:

Since Trump has been known to take his marching orders from Fox, and especially from Dobbs, whom he has reportedly patched in to policy meetings in the White House, we can safely assume that Friday’s move was partly driven by the Fox host.

(For what closing the border means in the practical sense, this is a good explainer from Vox.)

None of this is to discount Trump’s own agency here. Obviously, he is feeling relief from what he believes is a “total vindication” in the Russia investigation, and that has him feeling empowered.

But clearly, in the wake of the end of the Mueller investigation, the ideological heavyweights surrounding the president are seizing the opportunity to push for their most sacred policy objectives. Doing so requires ignoring the practical difficulties, the pickle it would put vulnerable Republicans in as they begin their re-election campaigns, and the chaos it would cause in Congress and the country.

But that’s the thing about being a zealot. It means never having to say you’re sorry.

 

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Gary Legum has written about politics and culture for Independent Journal Review, Salon, The Daily Beast, Wonkette, AlterNet and McSweeney's, among others. He currently lives in his native state of Virginia.

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