For weeks before the midterm elections, President Trump warned ominously about the threat from a caravan of migrants streaming from Central America toward Mexico’s border with the United States. It was a fearsome mix of criminals and “unknown Middle Easterners,” Mr. Trump claimed darkly, one that constituted a genuine national emergency.
But since the election last week, Mr. Trump has tweeted about the caravan exactly once — to issue a proclamation preventing those who cross the border illegally from applying for asylum in the United States. Fox News, which faithfully amplified Mr. Trump’s warnings about the migrants, has gone similarly quiet on the subject.
There was little dispute, even before Election Day, that Mr. Trump was exploiting the caravan for political purposes. But analysts, historians and veterans of previous administrations said there were few comparable instances of a commander in chief warning about what he called a looming threat, only to drop it as soon as people voted.
While the caravan has faded from television screens, the costs of Mr. Trump’s response to it have not. Nearly 6,000 active-duty troops remain deployed from the Gulf Coast to Southern California, where they are putting up tents and stringing concertina wire to face a ragtag band that is still not near the border.
“Now that the political utility of troops on the southern border to face a fictitious caravan invasion threat is over,” said Adm. James G. Stavridis, a former commander of the military’s Southern Command, “let’s hope the president will stand down the troops so they can be with their families — especially over the holidays.”
But some officials in the Defense Department worry that Mr. Trump could do the opposite — seek an exception to the Posse Comitatus Act, the 1878 law that prohibits the government from using active-duty troops to enforce laws inside the country’s borders.
.. voters who made up their minds in the last three days before the election said they voted for Democrats over Republicans 53 percent to 41 percent. That coincides with the period in which Mr. Trump redoubled his focus on the caravan, rejecting the advice of aides who wanted to air a commercial promoting the healthy economy.
.. At one campaign rally after another, Mr. Trump said the election came down to “the caravan, law and order, and common sense.” In Mesa, Ariz., on Oct. 19, he said: “You got some bad people in those groups. You got some tough people in those groups. And I’ll tell you what — this country doesn’t want them. O.K.? We don’t want them.”
.. A day earlier, he tweeted about the “assault on our country at our Southern Border, including the Criminal elements and DRUGS pouring in.”
Mr. Trump posted footage of an undocumented immigrant on trial for killing a police officer, and his campaign organization produced an ad featuring migrants trying to scale a wall to dramatize the stakes of the election.
“I’ve never before seen an American president, after going all over the country about this national crisis, then the day after an election shrug,” said Douglas Brinkley, a presidential historian at Rice University.
The closest parallel that Mr. Brinkley drew was to President Lyndon B. Johnson, who seized on — and mischaracterized — two murky encounters between American and North Vietnamese warships in the Gulf of Tonkin in 1964 as a pretext to accelerate America’s engagement in the Vietnam War. Still, he said, Mr. Trump’s response was of a different order.
“It was a dangerous form of xenophobia, aimed solely for electoral purposes and had nothing to do in the end with real national security,” Mr. Brinkley said.
For the troops, so far, it has mostly been an expensive field trip. The cost of the deployment is not known, but budget officials believe it could reach $200 million if all 15,000 troops that Mr. Trump pledged are ultimately sent.
.. Defenders of Mr. Trump said the troops would take little notice of his sudden lack of emphasis on the caravan.
“Knowing the troops, knowing how busy they are, they’re not focused on him,” said Jack Keane, a retired four-star general who is a former vice chief of staff of the Army. “They’ve got a job to do.”
But other former military officers said the soldiers were well aware of the political motivation behind their mission. Lacking much else to do, they will quickly pick up on Mr. Trump’s loss of interest in the caravan, and it will add to their already depleted morale.
Presidential appointees, business advocates complain, routinely overstep the authority given them by Congress in how they write and enforce rules. With the addition of Brett Kavanaugh, President Donald Trump’s Supreme Court nominee, business sees the Supreme Court as a reliable bulwark against executive branch overreach.
.. Judge Kavanaugh believes presidents, unlike regulators, are owed considerable deference, especially on national security and law enforcement. That’s significant because Mr. Trump is now using national security to justify his own economic interventions, especially on trade.
.. Much of the controversy over the administrative state harkens back to 1984, when the Supreme Court decided, in a case involving the Environmental Protection Agency, Chevron U.S.A. Inc. and an environmental group, that when a law is unclear, the court should defer to a federal agency’s interpretation of that law.
.. Courts have cited Chevron deference, as this doctrine is known, to grant wide latitude to regulatory agencies, from the EPA to the Department of Labor and the Federal Communications Commission. Many conservatives blame it for a decadeslong transfer of power to the executive branch. They questioned the legality of President Barack Obama’s routine use of executive authority, such as limiting greenhouse gas emissions and suspending some deportations of illegal immigrants, to sidestep Congress.It encourages the president, regardless of party, to “be extremely aggressive in seeking to squeeze its policy goals into ill-fitting statutory authorizations and restraints.”
.. Both parties have agencies they love to hate: For Republicans, it’s the EPA and the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau; for liberal Democrats, it’s now Immigration and Customs Enforcement. For both, it’s the Internal Revenue Service or the Justice Department when the other party controls the White House. In each case, a change of president is usually enough to change the agency’s behavior.
.. Yet even as he rolls back the administrative state, Mr. Trump has pushed the boundaries of presidential authority. He has imposed steep tariffs on imports of aluminum and steel and is planning the same on cars, citing his national security authority under a little-used 1962 law. Mr. Trump is also weighing forcing utilities to buy more coal and nuclear-generated power, also on national security grounds.In both cases, national security appears to be a pretext to shore up economically beleaguered industries... “There is a pronounced dichotomy between Kavanaugh’s view on deference to agencies as opposed to his view on deference to presidents,” says Jonathan Turley, a law professor at George Washington University. He says Congress has been progressively marginalized by the expanding authority of both federal agencies, and presidents; Judge Kavanaugh seems to oppose the first and encourage the second.
.. Judge Kavanaugh’s concurring opinion, as a judge on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit, in 2015 that the National Security Agency could collect an individual’s telephone “meta data.” Because the purpose was preventing terrorist attacks, he said, it didn’t violate the Fourth Amendment’s prohibition on unreasonable search and seizure.
The theory is fascinating as an artifact of our current political derangement, but more than that, it’s profoundly revealing about the lengths to which some Trump supporters will go to convince themselves that his presidency is going well.
.. In the QAnon reality, Trump only pretended to collude with Russia in order to create a pretext for the hiring of Robert Mueller, the special counsel, who is actually working with Trump to take down an inconceivably evil and powerful network of coup-plotters and child sex traffickers that includes Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama and George Soros.
.. “QAnon points out that this is the beginning of the end for the Clintons,” said Jerome Corsi — a prominent proponent of the lie that Obama was born in Kenya
.. the world would be forced to contend with “films of innocent children pleading for their lives while people are butchering them.” Once that happens, presumably, Trump will be revealed as a master of 12-dimensional chess who successfully distracted smirking elites with his buffoonery while he was quietly saving the world.
.. The creativity poured into QAnon is striking; it’s like something between a sprawling work of crowdsourced postmodern fiction and an immersive role-playing game.
.. But for many people, QAnon is very real. Barr has tried to make contact with Q on Twitter. InfoWars, the website run by conspiracy theorist Alex Jones — who has a close relationship with Trump confidant Roger Stone — has consistently promoted it.
.. Cheryl Sullenger, senior vice president of the anti-abortion group Operation Rescue, posted an article on the group’s website about an “intel drop” from Q revealing a White House plan to end Planned Parenthood. Sean Hannity retweeted a post with the #QAnon hashtag.
.. Some elements of the QAnon conspiracy theory — secret elites, kidnapped children — are classic, even archetypical. “In all Western culture, you can argue that all conspiracy theories, no matter how diverse, come from the idea of the Jews abducting children,”
.. Stories about globalists stealing children for sex aren’t that far removed from stories about Jews stealing children to use their blood making matzo.
.. One twist, however, makes QAnon unusual. Conspiracy theories are usually about evil cabals manipulating world events. QAnon, by contrast, is a conspiracy theory in which the good guys — in this case, Trump and his allies — are in charge.
.. It’s a dream of power rather than a bitter alibi for victimhood. It seems designed to cope with the cognitive dissonance caused by the gap between Trump as his faithful followers like to imagine him, and Trump as he is... legislation many on the right deplored, was shortsighted. In releasing funds to the military, it said, the bill would set off a climactic series of events: “Swamp drain begins, military seizes TRILLIONS in cabal assets, returning them to the people.”.. An inspector general report would then reveal the establishment’s unspeakable crimes, after which “the strings will be cut from the propaganda machine and people will stop falling for the garbage MSM,.. You don’t create a wild fantasy about your leader being a covert genius unless you understand that to most people, he looks like something quite different. You don’t need an occult story about how your side is secretly winning if it’s actually winning... Their desperate conviction that they will be proven right about Trump betrays a secret fear that they will be proven wrong.
The real scandal, it seemed, was that there was no scandal, because no one expects any better of Trump. The religious right was willing to give him a “mulligan,” in the words of Tony Perkins, president of the Family Research Council.
.. her lawyer has filed a lawsuit arguing that the nondisclosure agreement she signed is null and void because Trump himself never signed it. The suit, ingeniously, has given Daniels’s lawyer a pretext to make that agreement public.
.. for all its sordid details, it isn’t really a sex scandal. It’s a campaign finance scandal, a transparency scandal and potentially part of an ongoing national security scandal.
.. But the release of the NDA makes clear that Trump himself was a party to the agreement. If Trump authorized the $130,000 payment, it’s harder to explain away his campaign’s failure to disclose it, as required by law.
.. Sarah Huckabee Sanders, all but confirmed Trump’s involvement on Wednesday, when she said that a recent arbitration proceeding — the one that resulted in the temporary restraining order — was “won in the president’s favor.”
.. the “Al Capone problem.” The Daniels NDA refers repeatedly to “property” that she agreed to turn over to Trump, including video images, still images, emails and text messages. Eisen argues that Trump was required to report ownership of this property, as well as any obligations he might have had to reimburse Cohen for the $130,000, in his federal financial disclosure forms.
.. “The asset here is this incredibly valuable agreement with Stormy,” Eisen told me. “Imagine what she could get if she has texts or images. Imagine the millions she could command!
.. the Daniels story is germane to the overriding scandal of the Trump administration, the one involving Trump’s relationship with Russia. Christopher Steele, the British ex-spy who compiled an infamous dossier of opposition research on Trump, wrote that Russia could blackmail Trump with evidence of his “sexual perversion.”
.. The NDA does, however, show that Trump was susceptible to blackmail.
.. Steve Bannon told “Fire and Fury” author Michael Wolff that another Trump lawyer, Marc Kasowitz, “took care” of “a hundred women” during the campaign.
.. David Super, a professor at Georgetown University Law Center, told me he was surprised by how legally strong Daniels’s lawsuit seems, due to the way the original NDA was written.
.. “Any halfway competent lawyer could have drafted the contract so that he didn’t need to sign it,” Super said of Cohen and Trump. “But they didn’t do it that way.”
.. Among other things, the NDA forbids her from discussing Trump’s “alleged children” or “paternity information.” But the scandal will lie less in the details of Trump’s degeneracy than in the steps he and his lawyers took to cover it up.
“This is early days yet in the unfolding of this scandal,” said Eisen. Like Trump himself, it’s preposterous, but it’s not going away.