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EJ Dionne: 'Madman' Trump Might Give Away Something Important To Save Face Over 'Wall'

EJ Dionne notes Trump's Nixonian "madman" negotiating "strategy," and notes that immigration hardliners are nervous Trump might give away something of substance to save face over the stupid "memory device" known as "build the wall."

EJ Dionne appeared on Sunday's AM Joy and reflected on this comment from The New York Times:

Before it became the chief sticking point in a government shutdown drama that threatens to consume his presidency at a critical moment, President Trump’s promise to build a wall on the southwestern border was a memory trick for an undisciplined candidate.

As Mr. Trump began exploring a presidential run in 2014, his political advisers landed on the idea of a border wall as a mnemonic device of sorts, a way to make sure their candidate — who hated reading from a script but loved boasting about himself and his talents as a builder — would remember to talk about getting tough on immigration, which was to be a signature issue in his nascent campaign.

“How do we get him to continue to talk about immigration?” Sam Nunberg, one of Mr. Trump’s early political advisers, recalled telling Roger J. Stone Jr., another adviser. “We’re going to get him to talk about he’s going to build a wall.”

Transcript from AM Joy:

JOY-ANN REID: This is from last February when Donald Trump was trying to persuade then president Nieto to agree to pay for the wall which never was going to happen. He said in the transcript: "We are both in a political bind. I have to have Mexico pay for the wall. He told him, I have to. I have been talking about it for two years. If Mexico isn't going to pay for the wall I don't want to meet with you anymore. I can't live with that." He said, "Come on, just say you'll pay for it." He knew it wasn't real.

EJ DIONNE: Right. The notion that we are negotiating, having this trouble over a memory device, which you stressed, is really astonishing. Here's what I'm worried about. Donald Trump loves the shutdown. He's been out talking about it again and again and again. Why? Because it makes it look like he's doing something when he's actually not doing anything at all except keeping the government from doing its work. The Democrats are in this very difficult position. Nixon had the great old madman theory. If you act crazy enough, people you're negotiating with say, gee, somebody here has to act reasonably. So then they begin to give concessions, not because they believe in them but because they don't want this guy to wreck the government, wreck the lives of these people and pressure comes on them. People say, well, why can't they give him something when what we are in is a hostage situation. If they give in to Trump on this purely symbolic demand who else knows what he'll do in the future? We could well be stuck here. What's intriguing in the "New York Times" and also in a "Washington Post" story is the hardliners on immigration are uneasy about the wall because they start worrying he might give away something of substance to get the wall.

REID: Exactly. He might be willing to give anything away, daca, anything else because he must have the wall.

DIONNE: To save face.

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