Extremists Begin To Howl Over Trump’s Erratic Lurching On Immigration

Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump speaks at a campaign rally in Tampa, Fla., Wednesday, Aug. 24, 2016. (AP Photo/Gerald Herbert)
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Donald Trump’s recent waffling on his hardline immigration stances has put some of his most ardent and earliest supporters — many of them self-proclaimed white nationalists, members of the alt right community or longtime immigration foes — on the defensive, as they try to rationalize what the perceived shifts mean for their movements.

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. Ann Coulter went on a Twitter rant about Trump adopting the principles of immigration reform. Mark Krikorian, whose anti-immigrant think tank has been cited by Trump’s campaign, compared the GOP nominee to Archie Bunker and said his campaign was “groping” towards real policy, albeit “clumsily and badly.” The leader of the white nationalist American Freedom Party William Johnson was less distressed, suggesting Trump was merely tweaking the language around his mass deportation proposals to make them “palatable” for a “rising generation.”

Most still back Trump, but they’re looking for explanations for why Trump is considering “softening” on the issue that propelled his primary win. They hope that any claim that he is walking back his previous hardcore anti-immigration ideas is merely political smoke and mirrors.

“I hope there isn’t a shift, because this is a position that he has gained a very considerable amount of support,” Jared Taylor, founder of the white supremacist magazine American Renaissance, told TPM Wednesday. “Many Americans are very tired of the idea that anyone who manages to waltz across the border can stay, and a candidate who is willing to say, ‘No you can’t stay,’ has a great deal of appeal for Americans who care about their country.

The alarms bells of a potential pivot first began to ring when Trump met Saturday with some Hispanic leaders who later told outlets after the meeting that they picked up a willingness from Trump to consider granting legal status to undocumented immigrants. In interviews since, Trump has backed away from his previous promise that 11 million immigrants here illegally “have to go,” while his campaign aides said his policy on mass deportation is “to be determined” and coming in a major immigration speech that’s already been postponed.

In the current confusion, those who cheered Trump’s past extremist rhetoric now recognize the move may be about attracting as many voters as possible in the general election. But they feel abandoned, nonetheless.

Damigo — creator of the group Identity Evropa — pointed to the Hispanic adviser meeting to dismiss criticisms that Trump was racist, while complaining that he wished Trump would grant the “leaders of the European community” a similar sit down.

“He hasn’t reached out to anyone who advocates for European interests,” Damigo told TPM Wednesday. “If Trump campaign is going to reach out to another racial or ethnic community, they should definitely feel comfortable reaching out to us.”

Others are more panicked about his latest comments, which include remarks that aired Wednesday night in which Trump said his government could “work with” some illegal immigrants and let them stay if they pay back taxes.

The comments provoked Coulter to fret on Twitter that he was embracing the talking points of immigration reform proponents.

Coulter coincidentally released a book this week arguing that Trump’s hardline immigration positions are key to his popularity. She had previously brushed off his supposed shift as a “mistake” that “sounds like it’s coming from consultants.”

Peter Brimelow — a far-right writer behind the “patriotic immigration reform” site VDARE.com — said in an email to TPM Wednesday that he is not taking the supposed pivot “seriously.”

“[T]this ‘softening’ stuff has happened several times in the past and he always gets back on track,” Brimelow said. “He will see that he’s not getting any credit for it and may as well be hung for a Trump as a RINO. The ONLY way he can win this election is by running on immigration and rallying the white base.”

According to Krikorian, the executive director of the anti-immigration reform think tank Center for Immigration Studies, which has been referenced in Trump’s TV ads, the problem is less of an issue of the campaign, and more with the candidate himself, whom Krikorian suggested never really understood the policy in the first place and rather channelled a gut feeling during the primary.

“Archie Bunker yelling at the TV isn’t a policy for someone running for office. What he seems to be doing is finally realizing that or maybe finally listening to his advisers who are telling him that and trying to grope towards a policy,” Krikorian told TPM Wednesday. “Just look at what a mess it is. It’s obviously not a strategy. A strategy is they would have had a couple of coordinated statements and then a speech and all of it which would move beyond this idea of deporting all the illegals. But that’s not what’s happening.“

Krikorian, via Twitter, was even less impressed with Trump’s statements Wednesday night.

But most of Trump’s supporters say at the end of the day they’re willing to give him the benefit of the doubt that the change in tone was a matter of politics, and they argue he is still a preferable candidate on the issue to Hillary Clinton.

“There still needs to be the deportation of the illegals of this country,” said Johnson, the chairman of the white nationalist American Freedom Party. “He needs to make it palatable to the millennials, so toning it down is fine with me.”

Brimelow followed up in emails Thursday that the “campaign is obviously in chaos,” but he was optimistic Trump would return to his old ways.

“I think it’s just Trump shooting his mouth off again,” he said.

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