At this point, it’s basically immigration policy via Magic Eightball. Below you’ll find video of the full exchange with Anderson Cooper last night, a bit of which I posted yesterday. He starts off talking about deporting gang members and criminals, then Cooper presses him at around 2:45 on nonviolent illegals. What about them? Everyone agrees that the truly bad guys need to go; it’s the not so bad ones who are the sticking point. Trump seems to endorse touchback amnesty a few minutes later, but when Cooper tries to pin him down on that — even the good ones need to go home before they can be legalized? — he hedges. “There is a very good chance the answer could be yes,” he says. “We’re going to see what happens once we strengthen up our border.” A politician refusing to firmly commit to a position on legalization normally sends up alarms among border hawks, since it suggests he’s looking for wiggle room to cave later. Since Trump’s fans are straining for ways to believe he’s still an immigration warrior, though, it’ll probably be spun the opposite way. He’s looking for wiggle room because he doesn’t want swing voters to know that he really is going to deport all 11 million. He’s giving amnesty shills false hope, not us border hawks! Good luck with that.
Not all immigration restrictionists are under illusions, though:
Mark Krikorian, the executive director of the Center for Immigration Studies, which favors stricter immigration controls, blamed Mr. Trump’s new advisers for his changed rhetoric—a move he said was intended to help Mr. Trump appeal to Hispanic audiences.
“Whatever remaining chance he had to win the White House is gone,” Mr. Krikorian said. “The fact now that he has betrayed his base on the signature issue that he ran on seems to me the death knell of his candidacy as a practical matter.”
If you need further convincing that moderates are whispering in Trump’s ear about amnesty, apparently Chris Christie has his fingerprints all over Trump’s “softening” position:
Donald Trump’s apparent pivot away from his calls for mass deportations of millions of undocumented immigrants is partially the result of prodding by New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, according to former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani.
And, Giuliani says, even more Christie-inspired changes to Trump’s immigration stance will be forthcoming, like his call for tracking immigrant visas like Fedex packages, and using the E-Verify system to reduce illegal labor…
Asked if Christie was responsible for Trump’s softening approach to immigration, the former mayor responded: “The answer to that question is yes.”
Christie, Giuliani said, “is not the only one” counseling a more moderate stance on those who immigrated illegally, “but he is of great value to him.”
In 2010, as his star was rising nationally, Christie was A-OK with a path to citizenship. A few years later, in 2013, he appointed ally Jeff Chiesa to fill Frank Lautenberg’s suddenly vacant Senate seat; one of Chiesa’s first votes during his short time as a senator was in favor of the Gang of Eight amnesty bill. That transgression led former Christie superfan Ann Coulter to renounce him. A year after that, in 2014, Christie signed New Jersey’s version of the DREAM Act into law. Then, lo and behold, in 2015 he emerged as something of a border hawk, just in time for his presidential bid. Watch this clip from December and you’ll see similarities to Trump’s current policy: A path to citizenship is ruled out, and he refuses to so much as discuss legalization until immigration enforcement has improved. The thorny question of amnesty gets punted to some unspecified date, conveniently after he — or, now, Trump — has been elected president.
In the end, I think, this boils down to a “trust me” pitch in lieu of a traditional campaign promise. A candidate like Marco Rubio, who’s lost some trust on immigration, had to be specific. A candidate like Trump, whose base trusts him supremely as a would-be national savior, doesn’t need to be specific. (On legalization, I mean. On the more central issue of building the wall, he continues to swear up and down that it’ll happen. Even Trump has to make some promises.) Look at it this way, though: If he keeps his pledge to deport the criminals first, with the number of deportations overall climbing during his first years as president, most of the public will be sufficiently pleased and impressed that there’ll be little political pressure on him to go the whole nine yards and deport the nonviolent illegals too. In theory his nationalist base will be annoyed; after all, they see nonviolent illegals as an economic and cultural threat, if not a criminal one. But I think even they’ll be happy enough to see progress on removing criminals that they’ll let him slide. He doesn’t have to make the mass-deportation promise because he’ll never plausibly be asked to keep it.