President Donald Trump is settling into a messy pattern.
Evoking a crisis, he threatens a risky move that worries even his allies. Then he withdraws the warning, replacing it with another posture. This keeps most of his fans convinced of his resolve, while critics can be glad the threat went nowhere.
Bottom-line results may be scant or nonexistent. But everyone pays attention to the drama, even if the exercise only simulates tough negotiation. For this president, the show is the thing.
On Thursday Trump backed off his vow to close the southern border over illegal immigration. Many U.S. citizens, including those living near the border, honestly seemed to believe this was a terrible idea.
Mexican avocado growers enjoyed the Trump show while it lasted, however, as prices for their produce jumped 34 percent on Tuesday, the biggest gain in a decade, in anticipation that the supply to the U.S. would soon be interrupted.
So as not to look like he was simply talked out of a truly bad idea, Trump switched ultimatums. Mexico purportedly gets one year to stem the flow of drugs and people across the border, or he will impose new tariffs on automobiles, and also close the border.
Auto tariffs were actually the subject of a recent agreement with Mexico that has yet to be ratified as required by the Congress. How that would fit with this new, substitute threat is anyone's guess.
The new threat serves one purpose, which is to distract from his ditching the old one .
Trump in January also abandoned his ultimatum to Congress involving allocation of billions of dollars to build his sea-to-sea border barrier. The resulting standoff led to a 35-day partial shutdown of the federal government. Nothing was gained.
His rationale for quitting that fight, which he started, came in the form of an "emergency" declaration to shift military funds to the project without Congressional approval. Court challenges will tie it up for some time, making the effectiveness of the tactic iffy at best.
Trump's weak vow to cut off aid to three Central American nations also seems to have administration officials scrambling to figure out how it would even work.
Remember North Korea? Trump talked "fire and fury," then peace and love. Ordinary people breathed a sigh of relief at the president's change of tone. Trump fans chanted "Nobel!" as if the president had actually negotiated a treaty.
Meanwhile, dictator Kim Jong Un remains right where he was, with no deal to get rid of his nukes.
Family separations at the border were not just hinted but carried out. The policy actually hurt some people. Near-universal protest made Trump cancel the ugly practice. While his federal bureaucracy bumbled its way through names and reunions, the president blamed Democrats, migrants and anyone else he could think of for the fiasco. It was a surrender just the same.
During the 2016 campaign Trump threatened to ban all Muslims from entering the U.S. and create a "registry." Once in office, his "emergency" travel ban from certain nations eventually made it through the courts, but in a way that judges saw fit to not call discriminatory. Results again proved different than first threatened.
During the just-completed Russia investigation, Trump dangled the prospect of firing special counsel Robert Mueller. His spokeswoman Sarah Huckabee Sanders said a year ago this week that the president “certainly believes he has the power” to do so.
Some published accounts said he even ordered it. But that threat too ultimately proved hollow. Allies on his legal team and Senate Republicans who saw a risk of obstruction evidently were among the relieved.
As a replacement, Trump and supporters contented themselves with vainly condemning career law enforcer Mueller, a Republican, as part of an evil Democratic conspiracy.
Bluffing, and then winning nothing, might be fine with Trump — until those watching start to dismiss the approach as fake governance.