Well, he didn’t look like a guy who was utterly incapable of doing his job.
In fact, the president of the United States looked like he was grappling with a difficult issue with leaders of both parties—and with the cameras rolling.
Trump’s negotiating session was so unusual that even liberal pundits heaped praise on him for working on the sensitive subject for nearly an hour without kicking out the TV pool, which usually happens after a couple of minutes.
For Trump, actually doing the job—whether it leads to an immigration deal or not—sends a much better message than tweeting that he is a “stable genius.”
Of course, much of his right wing exploded at the substance of what he was suggesting, that he could do a deal with the Dems on comprehensive immigration reform.
Still, it was a better narrative than one about Trump’s mental stability, or even Oprah.
“After days in which his very fitness for office was debated,” the New York Times said, “Mr. Trump appeared intent on demonstrating that he could handle the presidency. He was in command of the meeting while inviting input. He did not berate anyone. He did not call anyone derogatory nicknames. He signaled that he was open to compromise.”
The paper added that the bar “was historically low” given the recent chatter about whether Trump is incapable of being president.
“He acted the part, listening intently and guiding the conversation with the control of a firm but open-minded executive,” the Washington Post said. “He spoke the part, offering a mix of jesting bon mots and high-minded appeals for bipartisanship. And he looked the part, down to the embroidered ’45’ on his starched white shirt cuff.
“In short, President Trump on Tuesday tried to show that he could do his job.”
And in more dramatic terms, the paper said Trump was trying to answer the question: “Is the 71-year-old mentally fit to be commander in chief?”
So let’s assume that Trump aced this particular class, although some detractors are saying it was just for show. The president himself said yesterday that he got rave reviews from two networks (CNN and MSNBC) for about two hours before they “went south,” joking that the anchors must have received calls from their bosses.
But was it wise for him to talk about immigration legislation as a “bill of love,” using the same word that caused the right to slam Jeb Bush during his primary run?
Trump said at the meeting that if the Democrats were willing to include funding for a border wall and an end to chain migration as well as legal relief for the dreamers, “I’ll take the heat, I don’t care. I don’t care–I’ll take all the heat you want to give me, and I’ll take the heat off both the Democrats and the Republicans. My whole life has been heat. I like heat.”
Some conservative commentators, led by Ann Coulter, are apoplectic about what they see as the president abandoning his hard line on immigration. There’s no question that a deal would hurt Trump with at least part of his base.
But I’ve always maintained that Trump essentially ran as an independent candidate, one who was not part of the Republican establishment. In his first year, he went along with the GOP on just about everything, which was one reason he couldn’t get ObamaCare repealed. If he pushed through some bipartisan bills this year, I believe it would help him expand his base.
Of course, Trump has made feints in this direction before, especially on the dreamers, only to later insist on conditions that made a deal impossible. And the reason that Barack Obama and George W. Bush couldn’t push through a big immigration bill is that the politics are treacherous.
But if Trump tried moving down the bipartisan path, the second year of his presidency could look very different.