WASHINGTON - One hundred plus days into his topsy- turvy presidency, Donald Trump and his administration are sending conflicting messages about the agenda he ran on in his 2016 campaign.
In many cases, he appears to be backing away from the hardcore positions that appealed to his legions of cheering supporters who catapulted him into the White House.
In recent weeks, Trump and his advisers have abandoned key components of his plan to deport millions of illegal Hispanic immigrants, suggesting that many or even most of them will remain in this country.
His campaign pledge to build “an impenetrable, physical, tall, powerful, beautiful southern border wall,” seems to be crumbling among Republicans on Capitol Hill.
And it is now clear that his endlessly repeated promise to make Mexico pay the tens of billions of dollars the wall would cost to build isn’t worth the paper it was printed on.
Instead, he’s pleading with Congress to include a billion dollar downpayment in the 2017 federal budget that is now being taken up in the House. Meaning that taxpayers will foot the entire bill.
Conservative talk show firebrand Rush Limbaugh, who was one of Trump’s staunchest supporters throughout his campaign, isn’t happy with the president’s flip-flop on this issue.
Trump was “caving on his demand for a measly $1 billion in the budget for his wall on the border with Mexico,” Limbaugh told his radio audience this week.
His switch board lit up with angry phone calls. “I’m afraid he’s starting to dip his foot into the swamp,” said one caller. Another said he feared that Trump would just continue to “kick this can down the road.”
Meantime, GOP congressional leaders are no longer talking about building a 2,200 mile wall. Instead, the talk is all about beefing up security along the border with drones and other surveillance gear and personnel.
Even Mexico’s president Felipe Calderon is now saying nice things about Trump’s increasingly softer tone on the border issues. “I believe that the current administration after 100 days has been more moderate than was expected,” he said. “And I think we need to reinforce such behavior.”
Trump ran flat out by repeatedly condemning China as a “currency manipulator,” but now says that designation no longer applies to them.
He preached “America First” in his campaign, a political cry in World War II from Americans who opposed our entry into the war, urging that we retreat from institutions like NATO that he said had become obsolete. And he was critical of corporate welfare programs like the Export-Import Bank.
But now he opposes GOP efforts to abolish the Ex-Im bank and stoutly defends membership in NATO, saying that a muscular Europe is “very, very important to me as president of the United States” and “very much to everybody’s advantage.”
Perhaps nowhere is the administration’s backtracking more surprising, and confusing, than the growing internal debate about whether illegal immigrants, other than those who have committed crimes, should be deported.
That debate has centered on “dreamers,” illegals who were brought here when they were very young by their parents. Many are now nearing their 20s and some are either attending colleges or expecting to enter soon.
They come under the protective Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA program enacted under President Obama.
In an interview with the Associated Press last Friday, Trump appeared to support the “dreamers” program, saying they should “rest easy” and not be concerned about deportation.
When Attorney General Jeff Sessions was asked about the president’s remark on ABC’s “This Week” on Sunday, he said, “There’s no doubt the president has sympathy for young people who were brought here at early ages.”
But when the program’s host, George Stephanopoulos, asked if Trump’s remark meant that they could remain in the country, Sessions said this:
“Well, we’ll see. I believe that everyone that enters the country unlawfully is subject to being deported. However, we’ve got — we don’t have the ability to round up everybody, and there are no plans to do that.”
Trump’s Homeland Security Secretary John F. Kelly went even further in an interview on CNN’s “State of the Union” on Sunday. These people were here “unlawfully,” he acknowledged, but added, “we are are not targeting — my organization has not targeted these so-called dreamers, DACA.”
But then, in a stunning turnabout, Kelly addressed the broader immigrant community: “If you are simply here illegally, we don’t really have the time [to] go after you. We’re looking for bad men and women.”
The president made many dubious promises in his campaign, but now he’s having trouble with another wall, constructed by our Founding Fathers, and made up of three, totally independent branches of government.
They were designed to deal with the very situations we face today in the Age of Trump.