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Globe editorial: Why a weakened Trump is replaying his greatest hits

When things are going badly, it can be comforting to seek refuge in nostalgia. Remember good times past. Break out those tunes you used to love. Maybe call up an old friend.

Or, if you're Donald Trump, hold a rally where you crank up your greatest hits, call out your favourite enemies and return to the good ol' resentments and grievances that got you elected.

There are those who think Mr. Trump's Presidency is imploding; Mr. Trump may even be one of them. The administration has become a sieve of leaks, a geography of infighting and a revolving door. He has had no luck passing legislation, or doing much of anything. And the latest Politico poll says his approval rating has hit a new low, down to 39 per cent.

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Ibbitson: Again we see Trump enjoys running for president more than being one

Which is why the President went to Phoenix on Tuesday night to do what he does best: Assemble a crowd of supporters, get up on stage and vent. It may not be good for America, but it's been good for him. Hey, it's what got him to the White House.

Remember the border wall? Forgotten for a while, but not gone. On Tuesday, Mr. Trump said he's committed to building it, though the "and Mexico will pay for it" promise has quietly disappeared. And if Congress won't fund it, he says he'll force a government shut down to get action.

Remember his rage against free trade, which post-election mutated into a modest plan to merely "tweak" the North American free-trade agreement? On Tuesday, he said that "we'll probably end up terminating NAFTA at some point," because, "personally, I don't think we can make a deal."

Remember Blue Lives Matter? On Tuesday, he hinted, to the crowd's delight, that he will pardon Joe Arpaio, former sheriff of Arizona's Maricopa country, and a long-time proponent of violating civil liberties and generally acting above the law.

Mr. Arpaio became a Trump-style celebrity two decades ago when, styling himself "America's Toughest Sheriff," he proudly worsened prison conditions in his jurisdiction, built a tent-city jail in Arizona's extreme heat, limited inmate meals to twice daily and humiliated prisoners by issuing them pink underwear. He also intimidated judges, and tried to prove that Barack Obama was not born in the United States.

Mr. Arpaio was convicted last year of criminal contempt for repeatedly refusing to obey a court order that he stop racially profiling Hispanic Americans in sweeps for illegal immigrants. His notoriety in the cause of "tough on crime" and "securing the borders" is why Mr. Trump teased the idea of pardoning him in a future episode of his reality-show presidency.

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A pardon for the worst sheriff in America would be widely condemned – which is why Mr. Trump will almost certainly do it.

Like no other President, Mr. Trump embodies the permanent campaign. He seems to have no vision of what he wants to accomplish in office, other than sticking it to his enemies (a growing list that includes much of his own party) and winning re-election.

As such, a lot of his words are no more than that; he has no loyalty to them, and no compunction about not living up to them. From business to politics, Mr. Trump has a long history of disappointing his investors.

But if he wants to be re-elected, he has to deliver, or be seen to be delivering, on at least some of what he promised supporters. To appear to be doing that, he has every reason to continue saying and doing the exact opposite of whatever is urged by the superego "They" he is always running against – the mainstream media, actual experts, Democrats and moderate voices within his own party and administration.

Does Mr. Trump actually plan to scrap NAFTA? For the last few months, he's sounded like a conventional Republican on the issue. But remember, he won the presidential primary, against traditional, pro-trade Republicans, by rabidly playing the economic nationalist card. His base isn't excited by the idea of a few academic tweaks to some egghead treaty. They want blood.

Mr. Trump has no power to rip up NAFTA by himself; Congress would have to vote to do that. But the President does at least have the power to blow up the NAFTA negotiations, and throw the whole issue into Congress' lap. If Congress doesn't have the guts to gut NAFTA, then a President who loves running against his own party could blame the failure on the Congressional GOP – the same people he attacked for failing to kill Obamacare.

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And shutting down government unless he gets his border wall – that useless, overpriced monument to anti-immigrationism – sounds completely bonkers. His party controls all three government branches; it would essentially be pressuring itself. But Mr. Trump understands that knee-capping government has become, for many of his voters, a satisfying end in itself.

This President got elected selling salvation through destruction. That's where his path to re-election lies.

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