While President Donald Trump and the conservative mediasphere celebrate their “big win” in high-stakes negotiations with Mexico under the threat of punitive sanctions to reduce undocumented immigration into the United States via that country, the New York Times was obliged to pop the bubble:
The deal to avert tariffs that President Trump announced with great fanfare on Friday night consists largely of actions that Mexico had already promised to take in prior discussions with the United States over the past several months, [Pols emphasis] according to officials from both countries who are familiar with the negotiations.
Friday’s joint declaration says Mexico agreed to the “deployment of its National Guard throughout Mexico, giving priority to its southern border.” But the Mexican government had already pledged to do that in March during secret talks in Miami between Kirstjen Nielsen, then the secretary of homeland security, and Olga Sanchez, the Mexican secretary of the interior, the officials said.
The centerpiece of Mr. Trump’s deal was an expansion of a program to allow asylum-seekers to remain in Mexico while their legal cases proceed. But that arrangement was reached in December in a pair of painstakingly negotiated diplomatic notes that the two countries exchanged. Ms. Nielsen announced the Migrant Protection Protocols during a hearing of the House Judiciary Committee five days before Christmas.
It’s become a distinct patten in the Trump administration: when facing defeat on a high-stakes policy gambit, Trump simply moves the goalposts to a location from which he can claim victory. Can’t replace Obamacare? At least we messed it up good! North Korea still firing off missiles? Hey, at least they’re not testing nukes! So it makes perfect sense that with the deadline to make good on his threats or fold rapidly approaching, Trump decided the concessions he already had won from Mexico were enough to stand down his threat of tariffs starting Monday.
Obviously, the revelation that Trump didn’t actually win new concessions in this latest round of drama undercuts the sense of triumph this was all supposed to build up to. We’re not completely sure how this was going to play out in the long term–would it have meant Trump was done demonizing immigrants, having solved the issue once and for all? That seems hard to imagine. In this respect, the news that Friday’s “last-minute deal” was a sham could actually help Republicans stay on their anti-immigrant message.
As for Sen. Cory Gardner? Once again Gardner has exhibited precisely zero leadership on the issue dominating the past week of nationwide news headlines. Gardner was one of the last Republicans who claimed to oppose the tariffs to dissent publicly before Trump announced that the tariffs would not be imposed. Gardner hasn’t commented publicly since the announcement that we’ve seen, but we’re not sure what he should say. If Gardner acknowledges reality and thanks the President for caving, the GOP base will be outraged. But if Gardner tries to validate Trump’s fictional pretense of a deal, everybody who knows the facts will laugh at him.
The sole piece of good news here that everybody can agree on is that there will be no sudden tariffs on billions of dollars of goods starting Monday. That’s a relief for everyone, though it comes no thanks to Trump, Gardner, or anyone with an (R) after their name. A relatively painless end to another self-inflicted crisis does not leave voters with anything to celebrate.