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Donald Trump digs in on immigration, then does about-face

Faced with the disturbing images of migrant children separated from their parents at the US border with Mexico that have shocked America and the world, President Donald Trump did not flinch for a long time.

But finally, with a mounting political crisis within his own Republican Party, Trump made an abrupt about-face. At a meeting on Wednesday with Republican lawmakers at the White House, he surprised everyone by announcing he would sign an executive order to "keep families together." Hours later, he put his signature on the page. Since May, when his administration adopted a "zero-tolerance" border security policy helmed by ultra-conservative Attorney General Jeff Sessions, more than 2,300 children have been separated from their parents. Recent images of crying and screaming children, trying to cling to their parents, have left many Americans shocked -- and asking why such a practice is needed. The real estate mogul-turned-president is certainly used to controversy -- and in fact seems to fuel it on purpose. And it certainly seems ill-advised to declare another major turning point in his unconventional presidency. But nevertheless, recent events are certainly a bit different, at the very least. Rarely has Trump faced such an widespread outcry, such an avalanche of condemnations Day after day, tensions were palpably mounting within the Republican camp. And while the controversy has certainly emboldened part of Trump's base, the president also has cut himself off from other core supporters, especially evangelical Christians, who helped him win in 2016 but are since disgruntled. The Grand Old Party is aware of the chinks in the armor: a few months before crucial November mid-term elections, in which it fears losing control of the House of Representatives, the party is in a high-risk face-off on a deeply emotional issue. Steve Schmidt, a former advisor to Senator John McCain and a longtime Trump critic, on Wednesday renounced his party membership, disgusted by what he called "internment camps for babies." "29 years and nine months ago I registered to vote and became a member of The Republican Party which was founded in 1854 to oppose slavery and stand for the dignity of human life," Schmidt tweeted. "Today I renounce my membership in the Republican Party. It is fully the party of Trump."  

- Trump's 'Katrina moment'? -

  While the executive order could serve to calm public outrage, the controversy could leave lasting black marks on Trump's presidency. For Jill Abramson, the former executive editor of The New York Times who is now a columnist for The Guardian, this could be Trump's "Katrina moment" -- referring to George W Bush's botched handling of the 2005 hurricane disaster. The photo of Bush surveying the damage in New Orleans from far above, in Air Force One, remains an indelible symbol of a president who was totally disconnected from the tragic reality on the ground. "Trump is making Bush’s same fatal mistake," Abramson wrote. "It’s the exact same heartlessness and cluelessness." "This is not the America that even staunch conservatives want the world to see," she added. Beyond the political arguments, the words used by the leader of the world's superpower are also stoking the firestorm. "Democrats are the problem. They don’t care about crime and want illegal immigrants, no matter how bad they may be, to pour into and infest our Country," Trump tweeted Tuesday. According to a Quinnipiac University poll released Monday, less than a third of Americans (27 percent) approve of the separation of migrant families at the border. Among Republicans, the number is far higher, with a majority backing the president, but only just -- 55 percent. Trump, whose mantra is "border security" at all costs, is to address supporters at a campaign-style "Make America Great Again" rally Wednesday night in Minnesota. In that setting, he is most likely to abandon his prepared remarks -- and consequently usually offers the most provocative statements. DM

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