Speaking about the White House immigration proposal being crafted by Jared Kushner, an administration official said this week that President Trump “could be the Nixon going to China figure. He could be the one to deliver this.”
The Nixon-goes-to-China thing regarding Trump and immigration goes back a long way. A CNBC commentator said of Trump’s visit to Mexico to talk about border issues two months before the election, “Some might even cast it as an ‘only Nixon could go to China’ type moment.” The risible Jen Rubin wrote the morning after the election, “if it took Nixon to go to China, perhaps it will take Trump to concede the unworkability of anti-immigrant schemes.” There are many, many more examples of this.
But Nixon/China metaphor (whatever its historical validity) presupposes a real track record that earns a figure credibility, which he then uses to bring his constituency around to support a policy they’d otherwise reject. Nixon spent decades as a leading opponent of Communism, having launched his political career exposing Alger Hiss as an agent of Soviet military intelligence. It was that career-long commitment that enabled him to open relations with the ChiComs.
Trump has talked and tweeted a lot about immigration over the last four years, but what’s he actually accomplished that would qualify him as a Nixon/China figure? It took him seven months to cancel Obama’s unlawful DACA amnesty, which he’d pledged to do on Day One. He hasn’t appointed a single person as permanent or acting DHS secretary who agrees with him on immigration. He dismissed the two most competent and committed immigration hawks in the administration: Jeff Sessions and Francis Cissna. He botched the Goodlatte bill, which would have passed the House with a little effort. And he’s spent all this year calling for increased immigration.
That’s not to say he’s accomplished nothing. There really is more and better fencing on the border (though it’s never going to be impregnable, and no one should ever have expected it to be). Even after Cissna’s removal from USCIS, the rules for various immigration programs are actually being strictly enforced. He’s reduced refugee resettlement and given states and localities more say in whether people are placed in their jurisdictions. And the belated response to the border disaster has brought the numbers down from the catastrophic levels of earlier this year to the merely atrocious.
The president’s relatively thin record on immigration isn’t entirely, or even mostly, his fault. The #Resistance judiciary has shockingly abandoned any conception of law and is merely trying to run out the clock on the administration. Even before the Democrats retook the House in 2018, Paul Ryan was not at all sympathetic to the president’s immigration agenda. And the president himself has lamented that his administration keeps hiring Never Trumpers.
But the president is going to have to show some more tangible results before he’ll be in a position to bring his supporters along to accept some kind of amnesty — things like universal E-Verify for new hires, a functioning entry-exit system, an end to sanctuary cities. Only when he does that could he be in a position to drink a toast to Mao Tse-tung Chuck Schumer.