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Trump's DACA lie is rooted in transparent cynicism

Trump wants Dreamers and their allies to believe he's on their side. The cynicism of the lie is breathtaking.
Image: Donald Trump, Mike Pence
President Donald Trump with, Vice President Mike Pence, left, speaks in the Diplomatic Room of the White House in Washington, Friday, March 23, 2018, about...

At a hastily thrown together White House event this afternoon, Donald Trump announced that he's signed that omnibus spending package his administration supports, but which he threatened to veto. Towards the end of the event, the president strayed from his prepared text to tell a rather important lie:

"I do want the Hispanic community to know and DACA recipients to know that Republicans are much more on your side than the Democrats who are using you for their own purposes."

Apparently, Trump is under the impression that Dreamers and "the Hispanic community" pay no attention to current events -- because otherwise, he wouldn't make such a cynical and ridiculous argument.

Let's revisit the facts, which are unambiguous. After assuring Dreamers that he wouldn't punish them, Trump ended the DACA program, putting these young immigrants' future in jeopardy and creating a crisis where none existed.

Democrats, meanwhile, have scrambled to protect Dreamers, offering the president six different bipartisan agreements, each of which Trump either rejected or walked away from.

Indeed, it's stunning just how far Democrats have been willing to go as this debate has unfolded. I, for example, have never seen much value in trading DACA protections for a border wall, largely because that's a "compromise" in which Trump gets something he says he wants in exchange for something Trump says he wants. That's not how bipartisan deals are generally supposed to go.

But as of last month, Democrats were willing to accept that deal anyway. In effect, Dems caved, feeling as if they had no choice and no leverage. Trump and his team could've taken "yes" for an answer, but they didn't. The White House said they'd protect Dreamers only if Democrats agreed to fund a border wall and accepted dramatic cuts to legal immigration. Dems said that was a bridge too far.

And in Trump's mind, this means he and Republicans are the true friends of Dreamers and "the Hispanic community."

Let's circle back to an analogy we discussed several weeks ago. Imagine someone took a group of people hostage and then sent a ridiculous ransom note to the group's friends. The friends, feeling desperate, grudgingly agreed to meet most of the hostage taker's demands, only to receive word that the hostage taker considers his ransom note non-negotiable. He'll only accept 100% of what he wants.

Then imagine that same hostage taker went to the media to boast that he's the hostages' true ally, unlike the friends who haven't yet met his demands.

If that sounds absurd, that's because it is -- though we're watching this play out in public view.

This isn't complicated: if Trump wanted to help Dreamers, he would. He could restore DACA. He could also accept one of the many bipartisan offers he's been presented with. He could take deportations off the table. He could accept the wall-for-DACA compromise he said he wanted.

But the president hasn't done any of these things, and that's almost certainly because he doesn't want to.

But instead of defending his position, Trump, whose rise to power was fueled in part by anti-immigration animus, is lying about it.

And why is the president lying so brazenly? Because as regular readers know, Trump realizes that the politics of this debate aren't going his way: if he starts deporting hundreds of thousands of Dreamers, the threat of a political backlash is real. After all, the American mainstream supports DACA protections for these young immigrants and opposes the White House's approach.

And so, in order to protect himself politically, Trump has to lie -- brazenly and repeatedly -- as he did again this afternoon.