It’s a good thing Donald Trump likes hats – he’s sure wearing a lot of them these days.
Over the past couple of weeks, the president has been sporting the apolitical crisis manager hat, managing the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey by shoring up government funding and committing his own personal, on-site labor to the recovery efforts. Meanwhile, he’s also been helping the country brace for Hurricane Irma, which has struck a personal chord with the president by destroying his Caribbean vacation home and forcing an evacuation at Mar-a-Lago.
He’s also worn the villain hat with Dreamers and those directly affected by his decision to rescind DACA. To the president’s detractors, he has once again played to his base by further disenfranchising immigrants. First it was the wall, then the travel ban, and now DACA.
But Trump’s action on DACA and remarks to Congress about the need for corrective legislation have hardly appeased the far right. On goes the “Dreamweaver” cap. The president has encouraged Congress to come up with a permanent fix for the problem President Obama intended to solve with DACA – the need for a clean path to citizenship for young immigrants. That permanent fix, of course, would be the Dream Act, which has stalled in Congress since President George W. Bush’s first term. According to House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, Trump has promised to sign the Dream Act into law if it makes its way onto his desk.
Depending on which side of the fence you’re on, the president has either dealt yet another vindictive blow to well-meaning immigrants by rescinding DACA, or taken the first step to opening our doors to them permanently by rescinding DACA and urging Congress to find a permanent solution.
Pelosi and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer have given the president another new hat: the unpredictable dealmaker cap. The sound of head scratching could be heard up and down the Potomac after Trump cut a deal with the two Democratic leaders to extend the debt ceiling and day-to-day government funding by 90 days, rather than the much longer period sought by House Speaker Paul Ryan, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and Treasury Secretary Steven Munchin.
The backlash from Republicans has been intense. The president’s blatant disregard for his own party leaders and palpable giddiness at having struck a deal with the enemy seems hard to fathom. But it hardly should be. Some pundits believe that Trump is simply triangulating – that is, strategically working to separate himself from both parties and develop his own singular political identity.
But there is a more basic explanation for each of the president’s recent moves: He wants to be viewed as a strong but unpredictable and independent leader who will do anything to forge a deal.
President Trump’s move in rescinding DACA was a way to appeal to both sides by taking a tough stance on border security while also putting the onus on Congress to find a permanent legislative solution. His decision to forge a debt deal with Democrats was a way to strike back at his new sworn enemy, Sen. McConnell, while also coming off as a pragmatic dealmaker. And his energetic leadership in the face of two natural disasters was an obvious method of proving his strength and competence.
Trump has always been a singular force and a man of many hats. Come to think of it, triangulator is probably the right term of art. Trump, the triangulator.
Blake Shuart is a Wichita attorney.