Does President-Elect Trump understand:
1) That the immigration issue is at the heart of his election. The Trump supporters who voted on the issue not only reflect majority support for most of his policies, but they tend to care about the issue intensely. If Trump backs down on the clear policies in his big August 31 immigration speech, including
On day one, we will begin working on an impenetrable, physical, tall, power, beautiful southern border wall.
he will dissolve this base of support. Since he has no other big base of support — not the Democrats who hate him, not established Republicans, who may hate him even more — he’ll be Wile E. Coyote in mid-air, with nothing under him. (Psst. It takes a simple majority to impeach.)
2) That by design, tradition, and circumstance, it’s grindingly hard for a president to get new laws through Congress. Our presidents are weak that way. One of the few proven openings for action is the first 100 or so days of a new administration, when the public’s most willing to give an incoming chief executive the chance to try his policies. If Trump doesn’t appoint people who will push hard from their first minute in office, he’s unlikely to get the laws — to expand the E-Verify system (to check the status of new hires), lower future legal immigration levels, maybe funding for the wall — he needs.
3) That a lot can be done with executive orders — and by simply reversing Obama’s enforcement priorities — but this requires near-obsessive leadership (at a minimum) in place at both the Justice and Homeland Security departments. The DOJ job has been filled with Sen. Jeff Sessions— Trump couldn’t have picked a better person. But the Homeland job is vacant. Why? You get the impression Trump thinks it’s a second tier position. Not for immigration it isn’t! For example, the infamous Morton memos, backing off interior enforcement, may be largely responsible for the surge of illegals from Central America — they’re the basis for the (accurate) coyote wisdom that if you can sneak past the border into the interior of the U.S., you’re home free. But the Morton memo was a Homeland Security directive, not a Justice directive.
Not to mention the Wall, which will be hard enough to get built — even under Department of Defense auspices — but which will certainly not get built without full support from Homeland Security.
4) That Kris Kobach, Kansas Secretary of State, is the sort of appointee who’d need no break-in period and who could be counted on to pursue border security measures as vigorously as possible. But while Kobach has been left twisting in the wind, TrumpWorld’s been popping out names of candidates who are likely to go wobbly on Day Two, if not Day One. Chris Christie, for example. Christie actually supported the dreadful 2013 “Gang of 8” Amnesty-First bill — his appointed cat’s paw senator voted for it, after Christie was lobbied by Chuck Schumer. He ain’t the right guy.
Even the transition “landing team” is co-headed by James Jay Carafano, a Heritage official who argues for new guestworker programs— even unskilled guestworkers who compete with the worst paid American workers. (“We also need low skilled workers.”) Carafano seems to be the immigration expert at Heritage who is most sensitive to employer (donor?) concerns. He opposed the precursor of E-Verify on the grounds that:
trying to enforce and make mandatory a worker verification system to ensure that every unlawfully present individual is denied a job would unnecessarily hamper American business …
While Carafano now seems to accept E-Verify as a voluntary program for employers, he isn’t known as a proponent of mandatory E-verify, which is what’s needed.**
5) Trump’s cabinet selection process seems, from the outside, like it’s driven by a need for ethnic and gender diversity, as well as the desire to assemble a team of already-famous star players. That seems unfortunate as a matter of general personnel policy — but fine, let Trump go for star power or diversity at Agriculture, or HUD, or the Labor Department (where Peter Kirsanow would be distinguished choice). Trump didn’t run on reforming Agriculture or HUD or Labor. He ran on building the wall and securing the border. He needs someone to get the job done. Homeland Security is too important for Transition Theater.
** — The closest I can find it is page 110 of this document, which endorses “moving toward” an E-Verify requirement.