I’ve lost track. Is this a flip or a flop? The immigration platform posted on his campaign website many months ago identified H-1B visas as a major problem for high-skilled Americans. We need to raise the prevailing wage for visa holders, Trump claimed, and require companies to hire American workers first in order to discourage them from passing over qualified U.S. citizens in favor of cheaper foreign labor. Then, at a debate in late October, he seemed to flip, saying that if Mark Zuckerberg and other Silicon Valley titans think we need people from abroad, that’s “fine.” But then he seemed to run away from that position in the months afterward, doubling down on his image as a border hawk extraordinaire and finally landing the endorsement of Jeff Sessions, the most vocal critic of H-1B visas in Congress. Flop! But then, last night at the Detroit debate, he uncorked the answer seen in the clip below, flatly admitting that he was “changing” on H-1B visas and saying, “We need highly skilled people in this country and if we can’t do it, we will get them in.” Border hawks on social media were aghast; Mark Krikorian headlined his post about Trump’s response, “Trump to American Workers: Drop Dead.” Another flip! But wait — within an hour or so of the debate ending, his campaign released this statement:
“Megyn Kelly asked about highly-skilled immigration. The H-1B program is neither high-skilled nor immigration: these are temporary foreign workers, imported from abroad, for the explicit purpose of substituting for American workers at lower pay. I remain totally committed to eliminating rampant, widespread H-1B abuse and ending outrageous practices such as those that occurred at Disney in Florida when Americans were forced to train their foreign replacements. I will end forever the use of the H-1B as a cheap labor program, and institute an absolute requirement to hire American workers first for every visa and immigration program. No exceptions.”
So that’s another flop — although, do note, both of Trump’s pro-visa statements have come from the man himself, during GOP debates, whereas his strongest anti-visa rhetoric has come from written statements posted by his campaign. Hmmm. Anyway, “it would be hard to imagine a quicker or more complete” reversal of one’s position, noted Byron York, drily:
Trump’s turnaround sent a jolt through the group of policy wonks and activists who have opposed Gang of Eight-style comprehensive immigration reform. “I’ve heard from enough tech workers displaced by H-1Bs that Trump’s apparent answer very dispiriting,” tweeted the writer Mickey Kaus. “Clarification?”…
“First of all, I’m not surprised that he so easily took what yesterday was something that he had said was a core principle and threw it out the window, because the fact is that Donald Trump has no core principles,” [Rubio campaign aide Todd] Harris told me. “One of the hallmarks of a con man is to say whatever it is that you need to say in order to fool somebody, and he obviously feels that what he needs to say to fool the people now is different than what it was yesterday.”
I asked whether Sen. Rubio is happy to have Trump join him in advocating for H-1Bs. “Sen. Rubio supports the H-1B program,” Harris said. “The problem is we have no idea where Donald Trump is going to be tomorrow on this issue or frankly, any other issue.”
Precisely. For all the media heavy breathing about Trump talking about the size of his schwanz last night, there were only two important soundbites. One was the clip I posted earlier about Trump claiming the military would obey his illegal orders, the other is this bit about visas. Together they illustrate the two dangers of Trumpism, vulgar authoritarianism and a complete unmooring from principle. Would President Trump attempt to ruthlessly impose his will, whatever the law might say to the contrary? Or would President Trump meekly and opportunistically go along with the ruling class consensus for his own political benefit? Or would he do both, varying his approach from issue to issue? No one knows. You’re voting for a black box. He might be the most go-along-to-get-along establishment guy we’ve elected in ages or he might be the Mussolini figure some of his fans seem to want. Those two facets of Trump, the would-be dictator and the principle-less squish, aren’t as opposed as they might seem, either. The common thread is that Trump’s political self-interest trumps all. If breaking the law in the name of punishing terrorists makes populists happy, that’s good for Trump! If pandering to the donor class by eating their garbage on foreign visas helps shake loose some of the big bucks he’ll need for the general election, that’s good for Trump! The leader is happy either way. What more could you want?
Speaking of flip-flops, just across from the Wall Street Journal:
Breaking: Donald Trump shifts stance on torture, says he wouldn't order military to break international torture laws https://t.co/29OMsu3Nt1
— Natalie Andrews (@nataliewsj) March 4, 2016
That’s the same pattern as his visa answer: He gives an answer at the debate that hurts him, presumably because it captures his true feelings, and then his campaign instantly turns around and claims he didn’t mean at all to say the very thing he just said. Which is the truth? Does the truth even matter?