Editor’s Note: Dean Obeidallah, a former attorney, is the host of SiriusXM radio’s daily program “The Dean Obeidallah Show” and a columnist for The Daily Beast. Follow him @DeanObeidallah. The opinions expressed in this commentary are his own. View more opinion articles on CNN.
In the last few days, President Donald Trump flip-flopped on his order to launch a military strike on Iran and then suddenly delayed his much-hyped mass deportation of undocumented immigrants.
Has the impetuous President who seems to tweet first and think second finally become more thoughtful? Or is Trump beginning to consider the prospect of losing re-election in 2020 and now second-guessing some of his more controversial choices?
I’d bet the latter scenario is more likely, especially given Trump’s comments Sunday morning on “Meet the Press”: “I’m probably not too prepared to lose. I don’t like losing,” He then added, “I haven’t lost very much in my life.”
But let’s take a closer look at the past week. On Thursday, Trump ordered a missile strike on Iranian military sites in response to Iran’s downing of an unmanned US surveillance drone. Trump suddenly changed his mind and canceled the mission just minutes before it was underway.
Why? Well, Trump’s explanation via Twitter was, “We were cocked & loaded to retaliate last night on 3 different sights when I asked, how many will die. 150 people, sir, was the answer from a General.” Trump added, “10 minutes before the strike I stopped it, not proportionate to shooting down an unmanned drone.”
Trump’s claim he only learned about the potential casualties so late into planning the strike stunned many, including anchors on Trump’s favorite network, Fox News.
As Fox’s Chris Wallace stated Friday, Trump’s explanation “just doesn’t add up,” since experts he spoke to confirmed that a president would’ve been informed early in the planning of the potential casualties. A perplexed Wallace remarked, “if you don’t want to strike, don’t strike. If you want to strike, do strike – but don’t send mixed messages that confuse not only your enemies, but even your allies and people here in this country.”
And then came Trump’s abrupt delay in his much-touted mass deportation plan. On Monday night, Trump announced via Twitter, “Next week ICE will begin the process of removing the millions of illegal aliens who have illicitly found their way into the United States.” On Friday, it was reported that ICE was slated to begin “mass deportations” Sunday of up to 2,000 families in 10 US cities. And Trump even tweeted Friday that the raids were coming.
But come Saturday morning Trump surprised us yet again when he tweeted that, like the military raid against Iran, the mass deportations were suspended – for now. He explained he did so “at the request of Democrats,” noting he would give Congress two weeks to negotiate a bipartisan immigration deal.
This was backed up by CNN’s reporting that Speaker Nancy Pelosi, who just two weeks ago Trump slammed as a “nasty, vindictive, horrible person,” had called the President and as a result of a 12-minute conversation, Trump agreed to delay the deportations.
What makes this new Trump behavior so odd is that this is the same President who in the past ignored his advisers and even fellow Republicans in Congress, such as last month when he threatened to impose 5% tariffs on all goods coming from Mexico. (A deal was ultimately reached with Mexico to avoid the tariffs.)
And who can forget March, when Trump declared an emergency to fund the building of a wall on the southern border, which prompted a dozen Republicans in the Senate to join Democrats in voting to overturn Trump’s so-called emergency. Even after that vote, Trump vetoed the bill.
So, what’s up with Trump? He is likely considering the possibility that that he could lose re-election in 2020, and it’s causing him to question some of his decisions. And Trump, who tweets poll numbers when he thinks they are positive – as he did last Saturday – has good reason to be nervous.
A Monmouth University poll released this past week found that only 37% of Americans believe Trump should be re-elected. And worse for Trump, nearly 60% believe “it is time to have someone new in the Oval Office.”
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Meanwhile, on Monday, Trump responded to a Fox News poll showing him losing to some of the top tier 2020 Democrats – including to former Vice President Joe Biden by 10 points and Sen. Bernie Sanders by 9 points – with a tweet slamming Fox News polls as “always bad for me.”
Trump losing in 2016 would’ve no doubt been painful for him. But Trump losing re-election in 2020 would be horribly embarrassing. After all, he would be the first sitting President since George H.W. Bush in 1992 not to be re-elected.
Instead of being able to market himself as the best president ever, he would forever be seen as a loser. And that might just be Trump’s greatest fear – and the very reason for his un-Trumpian behavior.