Why Trump's new travel ban will leave the left helpless

When the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals struck down President Trump's original executive order banning immigration and travel to the U.S. from a list of seven countries early last month, the president's opponents on the left cheered what looked like a victory for their side.

But what it really did was force the most liberal federal court in America and a bevy of advocacy groups to show their cards and give the White House all the information it needed on how to elude the most serious legal and political barriers to this immigration policy going forward.

On Monday, the Trump team used that information and cashed in.

When the new revised travel ban was rolled out by Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, Attorney General Jeff Sessions, and Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly, the announcement clearly had the parameters set by the 9th Circuit in mind.

First and foremost, the court's objection to banning entry to people who already had visas to be in the United States was addressed by the fact that the new travel ban excludes those visa holders.

Even though conservative Constitutional scholars have argued that the federal government has the right to rescind those visas, the Trump administration didn't choose to assert that right. And in so doing, the most potent legal aspect in the appeal decision has been defused.

But the case has also been fought in the court of public opinion. And the anti-immigration ban forces wisely latched on to the plight of many Iraqi citizens and ex-soldiers who had fought alongside U.S. forces in the recent past.

The sheer number of those Iraqis is large compared to most other groups seeking asylum, and their stories garner a lot of justified sympathy in and out of the courts. And so, with that card revealed, the Trump team decided to exclude Iraqis from the new ban and thus eluding another problem.

None of this means there won't be new protests against the revised ban in and out of the courts. But the White House has an upper hand now. Its legal opponents will now have to come up with new objections that even the uber-liberal 9th Circuit didn't consider last month.

And its activist opponents will be extremely hard-pressed to conjure a more sympathetic case than former Iraqi soldiers who fought for the U.S. In a game of moves and counter-moves, the anti-Trump forces showed their hand and are now in a tight corner.

A lot of the harshest Trump critics have been doubling down lately on the old argument that the president and his administration are unhinged and unable to function logically. Today's repurposed travel ban, and the clever card sharp-like strategy that went into it weakens that argument considerably.

Commentary by Jake Novak, CNBC.com senior columnist. Follow him on Twitter @jakejakeny.

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