Trump’s DACA deal talk exposes old divisions among his media cheerleaders

September 14, 2017
An aerial view of the White House. Image via United States Library of Congress

President Trump’s apparent deal with Congressional Democrats to protect young immigrants from deportation without a demand for border-wall funds has left many of his media cheerleaders disgusted. Ann Coulter has been particularly vocal on Twitter, lambasting the president with barbs like “If we’re not getting a wall, I’d prefer President Pence.” Breitbart screamed the headline “Amnesty Don,” leading its main story with, “Dems declare victory as Trump caves on DACA.” And RedState editor Caleb Howe accused Trump of “betrayal.”

But the backlash against Trump has been curiously muted in other parts of the right-wing mediasphere, including on Fox News—exposing, once again, the divisions and inconsistencies on the right. Trump’s deal, whether or not it reaches the finish line, has amplified differences between Trump true believers and true believers in the nativist politics he has, until now, spearheaded.

Commentators like Coulter and Breitbart “have a genuine valid policy prescription when it comes to immigration reform,” says Noah Rothman, associate editor of Commentary magazine, in an interview with CJR. “Trump is a vehicle to achieve that, and to the extent he doesn’t achieve that he’s outlived his usefulness.”

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Others, Rothman says, are on Trump’s side no matter what. To them, the president is “a talisman, a victory in the culture wars, an investment.”

The Fox News homepage this afternoon made no reference to the deal among its main stories, with two of its top four slots at one point dedicated to negative coverage of Hillary Clinton. Further down, they played up Trump’s remarks this morning that he has not struck a deal on DACA and that the border wall with Mexico will still be built, above a piece detailing hardline “Trump administration” sanctions against countries it says are refusing to take back their citizens deported from the US.

On Fox & Friends, meanwhile, Steve Doocy mused that the wall Trump glorified on the campaign trail may be “symbolic,” while former Utah Rep. Jason Chaffetz said the wall was “already there.”

“The Fox & Friends position is in part a recognition that the bulk of the pro-Trump audience was never as cultish as its spokespeople were,” says Jonah Goldberg, a senior editor at National Review, in an interview with CJR. “Trump’s mandate was to be ‘Not Hillary Clinton,’ he fulfilled that mandate, and now most pro-Trump Republicans are just team players.”

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That’s not to say that full-throated defenses of Trump were in ready supply. But some pro-Trump commentators irked by the DACA deal shifted blame to other actors instead.

Sean Hannity, for instance, initially said Trump “must keep his promise or it’s over.” But in a series of tweets since, Hannity blamed Congressional Republicans who “wanted [Trump] to fail,” and cast doubt on the veracity of early reports that Trump bent to the Democrats’ will on immigration. Hannity also shared two Trump tweets that seemed to suggest he was walking back the idea of a DACA compromise.

“They’ve invested in a business model that believes in the fundamental infallibility of Donald Trump,” says Goldberg, of the most Trump-loyal commentators. “If you believe in that doctrine you are gonna deflect, deny, shift blame in all sorts of interesting and creative ways.

While some of Trump’s traditional Twitter defenders have been vocally critical of the president on DACA, they have also found time for familiar touchstones since the news broke—with talk of Clinton, the Democrats, and other distractions.

Immigration hardliners like Coulter, on the other hand, may seem to have permanently soured on Trump after what they see as a shocking about-face on DACA. But the possibility of a future rapprochement should not be ruled out.

“It’s possible they could find means to reconcile. He’s the only game in town. He’s as good as they’re ever gonna get,” says Rothman. “No one else was willing to countenance their ideas.”

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Jon Allsop is a freelance journalist whose work has appeared in the New York Review of Books, Foreign Policy, and The Nation, among other outlets. He writes CJR’s newsletter The Media Today. Find him on Twitter @Jon_Allsop.