There was quite the hype going into Donald Trump’s immigration speech Wednesday night. Trump and a fresh-faced campaign manager had kept us on the edge of our seats. There was a last-minute diplomatic meeting with the president of Mexico for goodness sake. There was a press conference hours before his address in which Trump himself said the words “I happen to have a tremendous feeling for Mexican Americans.”
This, many Republicans hoped, sounded like a candidate who was going to shift, change, soften, moderate … PIVOT, if you will (sorry, we had to say it).
It was all a ruse, though. What we were left with was the Trump we have always known. He wants a border wall, he is certain Mexico will pay for it and he gave no indication that he wouldn’t deport the 11 million undocumented immigrants living in the country.
So what happened? How did we come to believe Trump might reform his policies ahead of the general election? We didn’t create this. Here are the clues over the last two weeks that set the stage for the big Trump speech in Phoenix that turned out not to be so big at all:
Aug. 20: Trump Holds Private Meeting With Hispanic Advisers
After a private meeting with his Hispanic advisory council in New York, reports emerged that Trump had signaled he was going to be reexamining his position to deport 11 million immigrants living in the country illegally. BuzzFeed reported that individuals in the meeting were led to believe that Trump was opening the door to legalization, a point that would have been a major reversal for the Republican nominee who had talked repeatedly about a “deportation force.”
Aug. 21: Trump’s Campaign Manager Remains Vague About Trump’s Commitment to “Deportation Force.”
During an appearance on CNN’s State of the Union, newly minted campaign manager Kellyanne Conway was asked if Trump still supported a deportation force.
“What he supports … is to make sure that we enforce the law, that we are respectful of those Americans who are looking for well-paying jobs and that we are fair and humane for those who live among us in this country,” Conway said. “And as the weeks unfold, he will lay out the specifics of the plan that he will lay out as president of the United States.”
Conway was grilled again if that meant a deportation force.
“To be determined,” Conway said.
Aug. 22 : Trump Cancels Planned Immigration Address in Colorado.
Adding to the confusion and questions about whether the Trump campaign was in the midst of an immigration shakeup, the campaign announced he was canceling a previously scheduled immigration speech in the swing state of Colorado.
The Washington Post reported that in an email to supporters, the Trump campaign wrote “the speech (Trump) was planning on giving is still being modified.”
Aug. 22 (9:24 p.m. ET): Trump tells Bill O’ Reilly He Wants To Enforce Existing Law
During an appearance on Fox News, Trump seemed to hint that he would prioritize deporting undocumented criminals. As for the rest of the undocumented immigrants in the country, he was staying pretty vague, once again giving the impression that he might be on the edge of a dramatic shift in his campaign.
“We’re going to obey the existing laws. Now, the existing laws are very strong. The existing laws, the first thing we’re gonna do, if and when I win, is we’re gonna get rid of all of the bad ones,” Trump said. “As far as everybody else, we’re going to go through the process. What people don’t know is that Obama got tremendous numbers of people out of the country, Bush the same thing. Lots of people were brought out of the country with the existing laws. Well, I’m gonna do the same thing.”
The statement left the impression that Trump might be reconsidering mass deportation for 11 million people. It also sounded a lot like the plan President Obama has been carrying out for the entirety of his presidency.
“They are going to be out of here so fast, your head will spin. As far as the rest, we’re going to go through the process, like they are now, perhaps with a lot more energy and we’re gonna do it only through the system of laws that — are in existence,” he continued.
Aug. 23: Trump Says Himself He Is “Softening”
Some of Trump’s statements weren’t even open to interpretation. He said himself that he was open to “softening” his position on mass deportation.
“There could certainly can be a softening because we’re not looking to hurt people,” Trump told Fox News’ Sean Hannity, when he was asked during a town hall about allowing some immigrants to stay in the country despite crossing the border illegally. “We want people — we have some great people in this country. We have some great, great people in this country but we’re going to follow the laws of this country and what people don’t realize — we have very, very strong laws.”
Aug 25: Ann Coulter Is Even Mad About Trump’s “Softening”
Trump’s apparent walk back on mass deportation was even making hardliners nervous. Ann Coulter – who had just released her book “In Trump We Trust: E Pluribus Awesome,” which included a photograph of her holding a Trump sign on its cover, expressed frustration with Trump’s apparent reversal.
Well, if it’s “hard,” then nevermind. Trump: “… to take a person who’s been here for 15 or 20 years ….It’s a very, very hard thing.”
— Ann Coulter (@AnnCoulter) August 25, 2016
Aug 25: Trump’s Reversal Seems So Imminent It Brings Former House Majority Leader Eric Cantor Out Of The Woodwork.
Some blamed Eric Cantor’s loss on the fact he had hinted at his own willingness to soften on immigration. But Cantor subtweeted Trump last week when he compared Trump’s plan to that of Jeb Bush.
— Eric Cantor (@EricCantor) August 25, 2016
Aug 25: Sen Jeff Sessions, An Immigration Hardliner, Even Says He Can Get Behind Softer Trump
During an appearance on Fox and Friends, Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-AL) says he can get behind a plan where Trump strengthens border security first and then wrestles with “the people who have been here for a long time.”
“You can get on board with that?” the reporter asks.
“Oh, yeah, I can be supportive of that,” Sessions said. “But you have to be careful because you’ve got to have the rule of law,” he said.
Aug. 25: Trump Is Making White Nationalists Nervous With Hints Of New Immigration Messaging
In a report, TPM chronicled the online outrage among self-proclaimed white nationalists that was surfacing around Trump’s immigration reckoning.
“Alt-right activist Nathan Damigo pleaded for Trump to meet with prominent white nationalists now that the candidate has hosted a roundtable for Hispanic leaders,” TPM wrote.
Prominent white nationalist Jared Taylor told TPM that “I hope there isn’t a shift, because this is a position that he has gained a very considerable amount of support.”
Aug. 25: Katrina Pierson Says Trump Is Changing The Words He Is Saying
Trump’s top surrogate Katrina Pierson threw some cold water on reports that Trump was “softening” his position on immigration.
“There’s not a different message. He’s using different words to give that message,” Pierson told CNN.
Aug. 26: Trump Gets Dodgy On What Exactly He Plans To Do On Immigration
In an interview with CNN’s Anderson Cooper, Trump insisted he was actually “hardening” his position on immigration, but he dodged the questions about what specifically he would do with the 11 million immigrants living in the shadows.
“I don’t think it’s a softening,” Trump said. “I’ve had people say it’s a hardening, actually.”
When he first asked Trump if he had a change of heart about deporting all undocumented immigrants, Trump launched into a rant about building a wall and said that he will give more details on his plan in a week. In addition to building a “great wall,” Trump said he’ll use “tunnel technology” and “all sorts of e-verify,” TPM wrote at the time.
Aug. 28: Kellyanne Conway Says Trump Is Not Talking About A Deportation Force
“If you want to be here legally, you have to apply to be here legally,” Conway told CBS’s Face the Nation, according to a report in Politico. “He is not talking about a deportation force, but he is talking about being fair and humane.”
A day later, Conway told Bloomberg’s With All Due Respect that Trump had not talked about a deportation force “in a very long time.”
Aug. 29: Media Reports That Trump May Wait To Deal With The 11 Million Down The Road
CNN White House correspondent Jim Acosta reports that Trump’s plan is to first secure the border and then talk about the 11 million “years from now.”
Senior Trump adv on immigration speech: Secure border first. Then have conversation on what to do with undocumented “years from now.”
— Jim Acosta (@Acosta) August 29, 2016
Aug. 31 (3 p.m. ET): Trump’s Surprise Trip To Mexico
We didn’t know what to expect when Trump began talking during his joint press conference with the Mexican president. After all, he had called Mexicans “rapists” and “criminals,” but just hours before his Phoenix speech, Trump offered the most sympathetic words yet to the Mexican people.
“I happen to have a tremendous feeling for Mexican Americans not only in terms of friendships, but in terms of the tremendous numbers that I employ in the United States and they are amazing people, amazing people. I have many friends, so many friends and so many friends coming to Mexico and in Mexico. I am proud to say how many people I employ,” Trump said.
It seemed like even if Trump’s positions didn’t really change, his tone would.
How wrong we were.
The Phoenix speech was a recapitulation of all the elements of Trump’s anti-immigration proposals, in his harshest rhetoric. No quarter given.
After it was all said and done, however, Trump resumed the same bob and weave:
Sept. 1: Trump Says He Is “Softening” After All
“Look, we do it in a very humane way, and we’re going to see with the people who are in this country. Obviously, I want to get the gang members out, the drug peddlers out,” Trump told Laura Ingraham on Thursday morning. “We’ve got a lot of people in this country that you can’t have, and those people you can’t have,” Trump said. “And then we’re going to make a decision at a later date once everything is stabilized. I think you’re going to see there is quite a bit of softening.”