President Donald Trump is creeping dangerously close to his "no new taxes" moment.
That is, he could now renege on a signature pledge in the same way President George H.W. Bush did when he raised taxes despite his "read my lips" promise. And we all know what that did to Bush's re-election hopes.
This all became clear during Tuesday's fully televised immigration and budget meeting at the White House between President Trump and a large bipartisan congressional crowd.
Before that meeting, President Trump had been taking a hard line on the issue of the children of illegal immigrants or "Dreamers." The president had been insisting that unless the Democrats agreed to more funding for border security and the building of his famous "wall," there would be no deal on the Dreamers and the DACA policy that protects them from deportation.
But then in front of all those Democrats and the TV cameras, President Trump made the following statement:
" I will say, when this group comes back -- hopefully with an agreement -- this group and others from the Senate, from the House, comes back with an agreement, I'm signing it."
That didn't sound like a man who won't accept any immigration deals without the wall. It sounded like a politician who's ready to go along to get along. Those are the kind of politicians who lose their base and lose elections.
President Trump's performance seemed to be part of a larger shift to the middle. It came on the heels of the total break with anti-illegal immigration firebrand Steve Bannon and the announcement that President Trump would be attending the globalist World Economic Forum at Davos later this month.
Conservatives and anti-illegal immigration leaders exploded. People like Ann Coulter laid into the president. Bannon's now former online news site Breitbart News featured several articles and interviews predicting a Trump surrender on immigration. Leading conservative radio host Mark Levin urged President Trump to "come back" from that statement. FOX News anchor Tucker Carlson used his program to ask: "What was the point of running for president?"
Since he made that statement at Tuesday's meeting, President Trump has posted multiple tweets about immigration including one that said he remains committed to border security:
But President Trump is still has a lot of work to do to avoid a situation where a significant portion of his base feels betrayed.
To protect himself politically, President Trump has two jobs to do. First, he must stand firm on getting that added border wall and security money. Anything less will be a total disaster in the eyes of a critical mass of his supporters.
Second, he needs to convince his base that agreeing not to deport the Dreamers is a justifiable move and won't mean amnesty for others. He could potentially get help on that part of the job from scores of Republican politicians and former politicians like President George W. Bush, former Florida Governor Jeb Bush, Senator Jeff Flake, and others from the GOP who have long advocated this kind of immigration reform.
Jeb Bush has already tweeted his support for President's comments. But since almost all of the other Republicans have either attacked or been attacked by President Trump over the last two years, their support is not guaranteed.
Still, this nuance presents President Trump with a lot more wiggle room than President George H.W. Bush had back in 1990. Bush's choice was to either give in to a tax hike or not. Bush made the wrong choice.
President Trump can claim a reasonable degree of victory if he gets that border funding. It will be even better for him if that funding leads to some kind of tangible evidence like at least a partially-constructed wall by the end of this year.
There's one other possible escape hatch that could save him with the more extreme members of his base. That would happen if the Democrats refuse to give in on border funding and follow through with threats to shut down the government. That would make President Trump look like an anti-illegal immigration stalwart.
The Democrats would then be forced to explain why they were willing to shut down the government even though President Trump was willing to compromise on DACA. It remains to be seen if the Democrats would so foolishly snatch defeat from the jaws of victory.
But President Trump cannot politically survive any rubber stamping of a DACA deal that passes Congress and doesn't include immediately boosted border security money. If he does, he will be punished permanently at the polls and the rest of the establishment GOP will go down with him.
Commentary by Jake Novak, CNBC.com senior columnist. Follow him on Twitter @jakejakeny.
For more insight from CNBC contributors, follow @CNBCopinion on Twitter.