Every policy proposal is a “suggestion” but few are so provocative that they define the candidate who offered them. Trump’s ban on Muslims does, as does his insistence on deporting all illegals (and then letting most of them back in). Those are the two pillars of his nationalist agenda, making America great again by keeping the more dangerous foreigners out. They’re also supposedly proof of his “outsider” authenticity. He won’t limit his solutions to what Washington deems politically correct. He’s going to fight and he’s going to get it done. There may be room for negotiation on economic matters like the minimum wage or tax rates on the rich, but when it comes to protecting Americans from terrorists or illegal labor, that’s non-negotiable.
Except, if it’s only a “suggestion,” maybe it is negotiable. Here’s what he told Brian Kilmeade:
Well I assume he denies there is Islamic terrorism. There is Islamic radical terrorism all over the world right now. It’s a disaster what’s going on. I assume he is denying that. I assume he is like our President that’s denying its taking place. We have a serious problem, it’s a temporary ban, it hasn’t been called for yet, nobody’s done it, this is just a suggestion until we find out what’s going on. We have radical Islamic terrorism all over the world, you can go to Paris, you can go to San Bernardino, all over the world, if they want to deny it, they can deny it, I don’t choose to deny it.
Why would a master negotiator begin his negotiation with Congress by emphasizing that his proposal’s just a “suggestion”? Ah well. That wasn’t his only comment about the Muslim ban yesterday. Later in the evening, he said this to Greta Van Susteren:
Greta Van Susteren brought up concerns people had that the ban could “go on forever.”
Trump said, “It was never meant to be. I mean, that’s why it was temporary. Sure I’d back off on it, I’d like to back off it as soon as possible.”…
“Ideally,” he concluded, “you won’t have a ban very long.”
By “back off,” he seems to mean that he hopes to be able to lift the ban quickly once it’s imposed, not that he doesn’t want to try to impose it. Although how that squares with what he said to Kilmeade about it being merely a “suggestion,” I don’t know. I also don’t know how a temporary ban squares with his fans’ feelings about Islam. Since the day last year that he first proposed it, he’s stressed that it’ll be temporary, just an exercise of caution while we “figure out what’s going on,” whatever that means. The average Trump fan seems to have a pretty firm idea of “what’s going on” with Muslims, though. Why would they ever want to lift the ban?
Scott Adams knows the game here:
So what do you do if you want to persuade voters but you don’t want to give policy details that are nothing but targets for critics? A trained persuader would create a situation in which everyone can see whatever they want to see. Trump literally takes both sides of the issues whenever he can. As a candidate, he’s a human Rorschach test. I might see in Trump a skilled persuader who always makes aggressive opening offers, and you might see a future dictator. We are looking at the same set of facts but we are primed by our experiences to interpret them differently. I study persuasion in all its forms and perhaps you watch the History Channel too much. Trump’s persuasion strategy depends on a growing number of voters finding something they like about him and fewer people reflexively making History Channel analogies. So far, it seems to be working. You’ll see Trump’s strategy fully-flowered over the summer. Watch for how many different reasons people offer for why they support him. That’s your tell.
A human Rorschach test. Here’s my own take on that from March:
When [Ben Carson] said last week that “There are two different Donald Trumps,” he wasn’t kidding. The dark art of Trumpism lies in making the individual voter believe that he’s BSing everyone else, that “their” version of Trump is the true one and the “other” Trump is just working an angle to protect himself temporarily. If you’re a border hawk, Trump saying that he’s changing on H-1B visas isn’t disqualifying, it’s just a self-serving lie designed to make him seem more moderate on his way to the general election. If you’re more open to legalizing illegals, Trump’s mass deportation demand is just a self-serving lie he’s telling the right to protect his lead in the primaries. If you’re an alt-righter, Trump saying that he loves Israel is just his way of pandering to mainstream conservatives and centrist Democrats. If you’re pro-Israel, Trump dodging Jake Tapper’s questions on David Duke was, unfortunately, just something he had to do to keep his turnout up this month. He’s been doing this for months. That’s why most Trump controversies come with some sort of walkback: We’ll have mass deportation but we’ll also let the good ones back in, we’ll bar Muslims from entering the U.S. but it’ll be temporary and maybe short-lived. Believe whatever you want. Carson’s no exception.
If you like Trump but oppose the idea of banning people from entry based on faith (as Rudy Giuliani, the nominal head of his “commission” on the matter, does), you can take comfort in the fact that it’s just a “suggestion.” He’ll abandon it in due time. If you like Trump and agree that we need to tighten up screening of Muslim visitors but also believe that a permanent ban would go too far, you can take comfort in the fact that the ban is temporary. It’s going to happen, rest assured. But it won’t last. If you like Trump and want Muslims banned permanently, you can take comfort in the fact that only Trump had the stones to propose excluding Muslims in the first place. The “temporary” “suggestion” stuff is just nonsense aimed at appeasing the media, to take the edge off his rhetoric. In reality, it’s the easiest thing in the world for “temporary” emergency security measures to become permanent. Trump knows what he’s doing! Most politicians strive for consistency (even when they fail dismally). With Trump, inconsistency is a virtue.
Here’s a mash-up of his original statement about the ban last year, followed by what he said to Kilmeade and Van Susteren. I hope for Trumpers’ sake that he’s doing the Rorschach thing Adams describes. If he isn’t, if he’s actually inching away from the ban to soften his image for the general election, you might as well just cancel “the wall” now and get it over with.