Trump holds his base close despite meetings with Democrats

Pro-Trump media incensed by DACA developments
Pro-Trump media incensed by DACA developments

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Story highlights

  • Trump met with Democrats to talk immigration
  • But continued equivocal rhetoric on Charlottesville violence

Washington (CNN)President Donald Trump, with a volley of Friday morning tweets, showed why claims that he could lose his impregnable political following over a proposed immigration deal with Democrats are probably off base.

Trump seized on a new terror attack in London to fire off criticisms of "loser" terrorists, earning a rebuke from UK police. While it is still unclear whether the attack was by Islamic extremists, he jumped on it anyway to tout his controversial travel ban on citizens of selected Muslim majority nations.
    The President also hit ESPN, which has refused to sack an anchor after she called the President a white extremist on Twitter. And he rushed to assure his supporters that "chain migration" will not be part of any deal that could shield 800,000 young undocumented immigrations from deportation.
    Within the space of a few hours, Trump hit the sweetest spots of the 2016 campaign that overturned every rule of modern politics -- on immigration, Islamic terrorism and a disdain for political correctness.
    "Another attack in London by a loser terrorist. These are sick and demented people who were in the sights of Scotland Yard. Must be proactive!" Trump wrote in one of the tweets -- in which he was either shooting from the hip with little information or may have been divulging secret intelligence about the identity of the attack that British officials have yet to share.
    It could be that the President felt the need to show his flamboyant, controversial approach to politics again after triggering an explosion from celebrity conservative commentators by huddling with Democrats in a bid to replace the the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program that he canceled earlier this month -- in a manner that suggests he is about to dump a campaign promise to kick out so-called Dreamers.
    But his Twitter blasts, and a string of encounters with reporters Thursday, in which he revived the controversy over his response to neo-Nazi violence in Charlottesville, were also a reminder of the gargantuan, ungovernable political persona that made Trump so beloved of his base in the first place.
    His performance suggests that while he might outrage anyone on the receiving end of his rhetoric, -- the UK police, the media in Washington and much of the political world -- the President understands better than anyone the visceral connection he has forged with his unique band of supporters and the fact that it is his personality and antics that attract them as much as ideology.

    Room to maneuver

    GOP Sen: right season for Trump to do deals with Dems
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    There are many reasons to believe that despite initial wave of outrage about his dinner conversation with top Democrats Chuck Schumer and Nancy Pelosi on Wednesday, Trump will not inevitably pay a heavy political price even if he goes ahead and allows young undocumented migrants to stay.
    First, the rush by both the White House and Democrats to clarify the terms of what is being discussed have tempered initial interpretations that he was about to preside over a monumental climbdown.
    But at the same time, Trump's room to maneuver with his base may also be wider than some pundits assume.
    Firstly, given Trump's vehement pronouncements on immigration ever since he sprung onto the political stage, he has the kind of credibility with arch conservatives that more moderate Republicans -- like Sen. Marco Rubio for instance -- have lacked and that could be deployed in a kind of "Nixon goes to China" moment to compromise with Democrats.
    Those covered by DACA, who in many cases know no other home than the United States, are also in many cases the most sympathetic undocumented migrants to public opinion.
    Trump has frequently slammed other classes of undocumented migrants -- including some in MS-13 gangs as "animals" and notoriously accused Mexico of sending criminals and rapists to the US in his campaign announcement speech.
    But he has made a special case for those affected by his decision to cancel DACA.
    "Does anybody really want to throw out good, educated and accomplished young people who have jobs, some serving in the military? Really!.....,"Trump tweeted.

    Political capital

    The President has also created significant political capital for himself among his core supporters in his eight months in power. By pardoning former Arizona Sheriff Joe Arpaio, convicted of contempt in a racial profiling case, signing an executive order to cut funds for sanctuary cities and introducing a travel ban on certain Muslim countries, Trump has made it unlikely that any significant political challenger can get to the right of him on immigration.
    Arpaio, a hero to many voters for whom immigration is a driving issue, offered the President some political cover on the DACA issue Thursday, showing the political value of a pardon that alienated many more moderate voters.
    "Whatever final policy he supports, I'll also support. He's very intelligent. He cuts deals," Arpaio said, according to The Los Angeles Times.
    Conservative callers to Rush Limbaugh's radio show on Thursday, meanwhile, appeared to be reacting with less outrage to Trump's meeting with Schumer and Pelosi than some conservative opinion leaders.
    Some suggested that the media was misinterpreting Trump's intentions. Others believed that the President was simply running rings around the top Democrats with masterful strategy. Some said that Trump was only working with Democrats because he had been let down by establishment Republicans -- for example, in the failure to repeal and replace Obamacare.
    Limbaugh told his listeners that he could not recall any calls from a "legitimate Trumpist" who felt betrayed by the President's bipartisan outreach in recent days.
    "Their faith in Trump is total and it is unshakeable, at least as of now, and they are not at all worried about this," he said.
    While recent CNN polls have shown that there has been an erosion of enthusiasm for Trump among Republicans and independents who voted for him, there is no clear evidence that his base is deserting him.
    Trump enjoys immense trust among his largely white, working class core of supporters. Many regard him as the only politician who has ever dared to give voice to their grievances and bonded with him over his economic nationalism and "America First" creed.
    A wholesale repudiation of that philosophy would likely be needed to splinter the President's core support.
    Some voters, bitterly disappointed with gridlock in Washington turned to Trump, an outsider, because of his professed deal making abilities -- another factor that may give him some political running room. And if he can finesse a deal that includes genuine measures to boost border security in a DACA deal, he may spare himself serious political damage.
    A Monmouth University poll taken before and after the controversy over his failure to quickly and unequivocally condemn white supremacists after violence in Charlottesville last month found that six in 10 of people who approve of Trump could not think of anything that he could do that would make them disapprove of the job he is doing as President.