Trump’s No. 1 Obsession (No, It’s Not Impeachment)

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Today I’m turning over the top of the newsletter to my colleagues Michael D. Shear, one of our White House correspondents, and Julie Hirschfeld Davis, our congressional editor.

Their fantastic new book, which comes out tomorrow, details two years of inside-the-administration reporting on President Trump’s signature issue: his opposition to immigration. (The book has already made news by revealing the president’s desire for an alligator-filled moat along the border and his suggestion that migrants be shot in the legs.)

Here’s what they had to say about Mr. Trump’s fixation with immigration and what it all may mean for the 2020 race.

Six days before the 2018 midterm elections, President Trump got into a shouting match over the phone with Paul Ryan, who was then the speaker of the House. That argument may reveal quite a bit about what to expect from the president when his 2020 campaign ramps up next year.

In 2018, Mr. Ryan was furious at Mr. Trump for talking endlessly about immigration — the dangers from caravans of migrants, a pledge to end birthright citizenship, his obsession with the border.

“Ryan was exasperated. Trump still didn’t get it,” we write in the book.

“You are not helping anything by talking about this kind of stuff,” Mr. Ryan told Mr. Trump.

After Republicans lost their majority, the speaker blamed the president’s comments about birthright citizenship, adding that his talk of sealing the border and having American troops shoot at migrants had not helped either.

Mr. Trump had made the congressional elections about him and his visceral message of fear and loathing toward immigrants, and voters in vital pockets of the country had recoiled, one of Mr. Ryan’s associates later told a colleague: “He had just hijacked the whole thing.”

What does that mean for 2020? At the moment, you could be excused for thinking that the only subject on Mr. Trump’s mind is the impeachment inquiry aimed at removing him from office.

But railing against immigration is in the president’s electoral DNA.

When Mr. Trump announced his 2016 campaign by calling Mexicans “rapists,” his political advisers were ecstatic, according to our reporting: “Trump had been at No. 8 in some polls when he was at the top of the escalator before his announcement. Within weeks, he had shot up to the top of the Republican pack.”

Stephen Miller, the architect of Mr. Trump’s immigration agenda, told us that voters would “resoundingly side with the political party that secured the border. And not by a little bit. Not by 55-45, 60-40, 70-30, 80-20. I’m talking 90-10 on that.”

Is that right? According to our reporting, one of the Republican Party’s leading pollsters concluded after the midterms that “immigration and the caravan had overwhelmed the economic message that Ryan and other Republicans had been trying to highlight by a two-to-one margin.”

That’s the danger for Mr. Trump. His obsession with immigration could once again overshadow the party’s tax cuts, a 3.5 percent unemployment rate and growth in wages.

Even so, expect dire warnings about “open border Democrats,” furious demands to stop asylum seekers and a relentless focus on his “big beautiful wall.” The president believes that immigration is what brought him to the White House, and he’s not about to abandon it now.

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Another colleague, Shane Goldmacher, spent his weekend standing in the street and sitting in a hotel lobby in Philadelphia, as Joe Biden’s biggest donors and fund-raisers met for their first big retreat since the campaign began. He sends this dispatch:

The gathering of Mr. Biden’s most important financiers came at an awkward time. Just a few hours before they toured his Philadelphia headquarters, Senator Elizabeth Warren’s campaign announced that she had out-raised Mr. Biden by nearly $10 million in the last three months. She was the subject of most of the weekend’s conversation, both among Biden officials and the donors, even though Senator Bernie Sanders had actually raised a little more than her.

Some donors were downbeat. But mostly there was a palpable sense of determination.

These retreats serve two purposes:

1. Thank the donors for the millions they’ve already raised.

2. Exhort them to raise even more.

There were drinks on Friday and a day filled with PowerPoints on Saturday. Most of Mr. Biden’s top brass appeared: the campaign manager Greg Schultz, deputy campaign managers Kate Bedingfield and Pete Kavanaugh, senior advisers Cristóbal Alex and Symone Sanders, and Becca Siegel, the chief analytics officer. Oh, and Mr. Biden came too.

Several donors said the weekend presentations were thoughtful, well prepared and steady, if not flashy or particularly inspiring. In that way, two attendees separately likened it to Mr. Biden’s candidacy itself.

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