There’s always something new in the never-ending, hyperventilating Trump drama. Over the last day or so, however, we’re seeing something a bit new: Trump caving or getting rolled on numerous fronts all at once. Just in the last 24 hours he appears to have been rolled so many times that one imagines his rough edges might start to be worn down until he becomes something more like a clumpy and perhaps oblong ball.
Here are just three examples.
Last night the White House released a readout of the President’s call with Chinese President Xi Jinping. That readout had this oddly worded sentence: “The two leaders discussed numerous topics and President Trump agreed, at the request of President Xi, to honor our ‘one China’ policy.” This came after weeks of swaggering and provocative moves and statements all declaring that the ‘One China Policy’, which is foundational for the PRC, was ‘on the table.’ It is an eminently sane move but also a dramatic back down for President Trump.
Then this afternoon EU foreign policy chief (in effect, the EU foreign minister) Federica Mogherini said that she had been assured in her meetings with top administration officials that the Trump administration intended to “stick to the full implementation of the [Iran nuclear] agreement.”
Notably, she said she was unable to get similar assurances on White House relations with Russia and whether they would honor the path charted in recent years between the US and the EU. But on the Iran nuclear deal, the administration seems to have signaled, even if it won’t say openly, that it will honor the deal.
Next came the on-going litigation over President Trump’s immigration executive order. Just 23 hours ago, in response to the unanimous denial by a three judge panel on the 9th circuit, Trump tweeted defiance.
SEE YOU IN COURT, THE SECURITY OF OUR NATION IS AT STAKE!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) February 9, 2017
Yet just a short time ago, CNN reported that the White House has decided not to appeal the 9th circuit decision to the Supreme Court. To be clear, many court watchers believe this is a wise strategy. With an evenly divided eight person Supreme Court, it seems likely that the President would do no better than a 4 to 4 tie, which would leave the 9th circuit decision in place. In other words, even a tie is a loss. This defeat is only on the temporary restraining order, not the merits of the case, where the government might have a better shot. The actual case now goes back to Judge Robart’s court to be judged on the merits.
So the strategy makes sense: stop fighting on this front and simply write a new executive order which takes cognizance of the statutory and constitutional issues which have been raised to date in the courts. But it is surprising or at least noteworthy that President Trump’s advisors were able to get him to go low energy and walk away from the fight.
My colleague Catherine Thompson notes that we have just crossed the hour into Shabbos, a threshold which news reports suggest sees Trump’s most transgressive behavior because his orthodox Jewish daughter and son-in-law are offline and not around to keep him in line. So things could change. But for the moment, it’s the most ego-bruising 24 hours Trump has been forced to accept in the decades long three weeks of his presidency.