Over the weekend Donald Trump met with a new Hispanic advisory group. When group members emerged they seemed to say he was considering reneging on his vaunted promise to deport 3% of the US population (11 million undocumented immigrants). Then campaign manager Kellyanne Conway said the fate of the ‘deportation force’ – the ridiculous government police agency that would supposedly be charged with rounding up and expelling 11 million US residents – was ‘to be determined.’ Then Trump insisted he was definitely not flip-flopping on his promise to deport everyone.
So far so good: typical Trump disorganization around a completely fantastical policy idea.
But just this afternoon word came out that Trump has either canceled or indefinitely postponed a major speech on immigration policy he was scheduled to give on Thursday in Colorado.
A few moments ago we were listening to Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-AL) on CNN, a key Trump advisor on many things but especially immigration policy. He said ‘well they’re just trying to prep for everything. No big thing, no problem.’ But he also let slip that he actually hasn’t heard from anyone on the campaign what’s happening. That shouldn’t happen with someone so close to the campaign on this issue.
So what is happening?
Put this down as knowledgable speculation.
What seems clear is that Conway realizes that the deportation plan – and the generally harsh hate campaign against immigrants, legal and undocumented, is untenable politically. (No big insight: that’s been obvious for months. But Conway is the first real campaign professional in charge.) Trump clearly hinted as much to his Hispanic advisory group.
So they’re trying to find a way to tone this down. Who is? Trump? Conway? The kids? The logical person is Conway. But who knows?
Almost any policy position is fudgeable and adjustable at some level. But this one is particularly difficult because the essence of the position was its absoluteness. Trump was in a primary full of immigration reform opponents who in principle at least believed everyone should be deported. What you had was a spectrum of empathy to organizational practicality that made it virtually impossible for any of the other candidates to match Trump’s harsh line: everybody gets deported and fast.
If Trump comes forward now with some sort of legalized status for a substantial number of undocumented immigrants but with no path to citizenship, that’s no different from what pretty much every other candidate up on those stages was saying. He used the inflexible line as a cudgel to beat them all.
It’s not too much to say that mass expulsion and the the Taj MaWall constituted the crux of Trump’s campaign. Everything else kind of fed out from those two policies or were atmospherics surrounding it. Several months ago I discussed the concept of hate and nonsense debt and how it helped explain the rise of Trump. Republican politicians had spent years railing against “illegals”, short-circuiting plans for immigration reform in 2013 over “amnesty.” And yet no Republican politician would just draw the logical inference from these positions. If they’re so bad and if we’re not going to allow them to become citizens or even permanent guest workers, the only logical policy is to deport them. The demand for mass deportation was a trap Republicans had built for themselves. Trump just sprung it.
It sounds like what happened is that the campaign thought they had some way to square this un-squarable circle but then realized it simply wouldn’t fly. Was it shot down by white nationalist immigration hawk supporters like Sessions and former Sessions staffer turned in-house Trump ideologue Stephen Miller? Was it CEO Steve Bannon? Was it simply a canvass of a broader range of high profile supporters which made it clear it wouldn’t fly? Jettisoning mass expulsion would be met cheers by establishment Republicans so they certainly wouldn’t have been the problem. And who was pushing for some change? Again, Conway is the most logical person. Is this the first coming to blows between Conway and Bannon? Who knows?
Would Trump himself flip on something so basic to his message? My sense is that Trump has fairly deep hates and grievances and feelings in the moment but doesn’t really believe much of anything. His principles are self-interest and opportunity. If he could pull it off it wouldn’t surprise me at all to see him just forget about the immigrant expulsion. You have to be familiar with a certain kind of sales person to get this. It was just a sales line. Deport them all; deport some; deport none but make them wear signs that say “kick me”. Whatever. I don’t think Trump has any deep ideological commitment to any of this, though I think he feels it deeply when he says it.
I suspect strongly that the campaign abruptly canceled this speech because they realized that they haven’t come up with a way yet to do the impossible: jettison the core message of his campaign without appearing to do so. So they’ll keep trying.