On Monday morning, as Donald Trump and his team talked up an outrageous plan to shut down the border between the United States and Mexico, I laid out a handful of ways this story could play out. One of them was the very real possibility that the president would pretend that Mexico did something dramatic, at which point Trump would take credit for the imaginary breakthrough.
It’s against this backdrop that the Republican retreated from his own policy yesterday, announcing that he’d decided not to close the border, at least not anytime soon. The president said he’d take this radical step unless his demands were met, but true to form, he was bluffing.
Trump, however, doesn’t quite see it that way. During a brief Q&A with reporters yesterday, he suggested that his threats forced Mexico to make significant changes, which made it possible for him to walk away from his gambit.
“Well, you know, Mexico has been – Mexico has been doing a very good job the last three or four days – since we talked about closing the border, which is very real. […]
“And I will say this: that Mexico, in the last four days, has really done a great job on their southern border…. And if you take a look, you’ll see a big difference.”
The president made related comments on Tuesday, boasting that Mexican officials improved their apprehension policies “as of yesterday.”
The Washington Post reported this morning that, Trump’s rhetoric notwithstanding, “Mexican authorities have said they have not altered their enforcement policies.”
Mexican Foreign Minister Marcelo Ebrard told reporters he doesn’t know why the American president suddenly began praising Mexican policies.
Maybe it’s because Trump wandered into dangerous waters, made a dramatic threat without a plan or strategy for success, started realizing that following through on his threat would do real harm to his own country, and needed a pretense to walk away from the mess he created for himself for no reason?
Stepping back to consider this in the larger context, we don’t just see a president who has continuously abandoned bold threats, we also see a president who’s stepped on his own tail in recent weeks.
Since Attorney General Bill Barr characterized Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s memo as a victory for the White House, Trump picked a fight over health care (before backing down), picked a fight over closing the border (before backing down), and watched helplessly as Congress took action on everything from his secret tax returns to his controversial security clearances to his Yemen policy, ignoring the president’s wishes.
Barr, meanwhile, is facing mounting questions about his controversial handling of the Mueller report, which he still hasn’t disclosed to anyone.
So much for the “victory lap.”