Kellyanne Conway on immigration: Hey, Trump hasn't talked about a deportation force since November

Jim Geraghty’s been needling Obama for the past eight years by noting how all of his promises seem to come with expiration dates. Fast-forward to 2016 and we’ve got another candidate promising a new age of Hope and dramatic political Change, who’s planning to go to Washington and smash the Obama way of doing things. And here’s his campaign manager warning Chris Wallace … not to get hung up on campaign promises he made nine months ago. We’re off to a bad start on the era of bold action and accountability.

The immigration bit runs from 1:45 to 6:10 of the clip below. The amnesty follies of the past week have been alternately amusing and exasperating, with Trump seemingly moving off of his original position of mass deportation towards amnesty for nonviolent illegals, then shifting back to demanding that they leave the country in order to qualify for touchback amnesty but insisting it’ll be done fairly and “humanely” and likely won’t involve any special “deportation force.” Why does Trump’s position seem to be in flux? If you believe WaPo, it’s because he’s easily influenced: “Trump tends to echo the words of the last person with whom he spoke, making direct access to him even more valuable,” according to sources who have been part of the campaign’s internal discussions on immigration. Reportedly it’s a tug of war between Chris Christie, Rudy Giuliani, and Roger Ailes in the “softening” camp and Jeff Sessions and Steve Bannon, among others, on the border hawk side. Sounds like the first group was whispering in Trump’s ear earlier this week, then the second group started whispering later on.

Between watching the clip below, Conway’s other interview this morning with “Face the Nation,” and Chris Christie’s comments about Trump’s immigration plan on “This Week,” a few things seem increasingly clear:

1. For understandable reasons, they really don’t want to talk about legalization any more than they have to. As you’ll see, Wallace had to follow up with Conway several times before he got a straight answer out of her. Left to their druthers, I’m sure Trump and his team would prefer to simply say “we’ll see” when it comes to nonviolent illegals. And that’s the de facto policy, I think — we’ll see. (Or, as Trump put it, “There is a very good chance the answer could be yes.”) Let’s worry first about better enforcement and deporting criminal illegals, which are big enough tasks. (Trump and his surrogates have smartly emphasized at every turn this week that their main concern is violent offenders.) As for the non-criminals? They’ll get back to you.

2. There’s no more “deportation force.” Trump and Conway have been in sync over the past few days in stressing that any deportations that happen will be done through normal means, including ICE and local law enforcement. “Enforce the laws we have” is the new rallying cry. Is self-deportation part of that strategy too, John Dickerson asked Conway on “Face the Nation”? She dodged and essentially said Trump will work with the relevant government agencies to make sure they’re doing their jobs in removing people. But if he is true to his word on better internal enforcement, especially with E-Verify, then some self-deportation will naturally follow.

3. Conway seems pretty clear at 4:30 below that illegals will have to leave the country in order to qualify for legalization. Does that mean a touchback amnesty, in which they leave briefly and then return? Or does it mean they leave, get comfortable in Mexico, and wait year after year for their application to be approved like legal immigrants to the U.S. typically do? “He has said if you want to be here legally, you have to apply to be here legally,” she told Dickerson. “We all learned in kindergarten to stand in line and wait our turn and he is not talking about a deportation force.” I’m going to translate that too as “We’ll see.” The time an illegal would need to wait beyond America’s borders before being readmitted would obviously be a bargaining chip in negotiating an immigration deal with Congress.

4. Both Conway and Christie made a point of noting that, whatever Trump ends up doing on immigration, it’ll certainly be superior to Hillary Clinton’s amnesty plans. Hard to argue with that. Hillary’s promising executive amnesty to any illegal who brings a child with them. There’s no reason to believe she’ll do anything meaningful on border security or internal enforcement. The argument for Trump on immigration is the same as the argument for Trump on appointing Supreme Court justices: No matter how bad he ends up being, it’s a cinch that he’ll be better than the alternative. Fair enough, but I’d make two points in reply. One: Arguably the odds of a durable legislative amnesty happening are higher with Trump as president than with Hillary in the White House. If President Clinton asks Paul Ryan for a deal that would amnestize millions of illegals, the pressure on him from grassroots Republicans to hold the line will be tremendous. If President Trump asks for him a similar deal, the base will be conflicted and neutered. Two: As my pal Karl says, the argument that “Hillary is worse” can be used to justify any prospective Trump sellout on any issue, no matter how dear to the base. Any Trump cave, on guns, abortion, immigration, refugees, you name it, can plausibly be spun as better than what we’d have gotten with Clinton as president. I thought the whole point of nominating Trump, though, was that he doesn’t cave. He has balls of steel; he’ll stare down Schumer and get those candy-ass Democrats to do what he wants. If the case for Trump now boils down to “well, he’ll be a bit better than Hillary Clinton would,” that’s a pitiful deterioration in the Trump mystique. And it leaves you with the question of why, say, Ted Cruz or John Kasich were less acceptable to Trump voters than Trump was. If all you want is a Republican who’ll deliver a bit more than Hillary will, literally any Republican candidate was as good as another.

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