“The first thing we’re going to do if and when I win,” he assures Bill O’Reilly, “is we’re going to get rid of all of the bad ones.” That’s Obama’s and Hillary’s position too: Hardcore criminals have to go, all other illegals get a pass. But what about the other ones, O’Reilly presses him. Do they go to a detention center at least? They’re not free to move around the country, are they? Trump: “Bill, you’re the first one to mention ‘detention center.’ You don’t have to put them in a detention center. … I’m not going to put them in a detention center. No.”

Serious question: Is the wall the only meaningful difference left between Trump’s and Clinton’s immigration policies? Hillary would do more, presumably, to formally legalize illegals via executive action (assuming she can get the Supreme Court to uphold her order), but Trump distinguishing between criminals and non-criminals implies that he won’t do much to remove the latter and would be open to a deal with Congress on legalization. Mass deportation, the flashy showpiece of his immigration views in a thousand interviews, is seemingly out the window. Which leaves him, as far as I can tell, not just in line with Obama but in line with the current position of a man he once described as “Senator Marco ‘amnesty’ Rubio.” Rubio, post-Gang of Eight, wants the border secured first and then, once illegal immigration has declined, a path to citizenship for illegals who are here. Would Trump rule that out at least? Legalization, but no citizenship? Citizenship is a fait accompli once legalization is granted but it’d be nice to know that there’s still some slight difference between him and the guy who was smashed in the primaries for his immigration heresies.

“The first thing we’re going to do if and when I win is we’re going to get rid of all of the bad ones,” Trump said. “We’ve got gang members, we have killers, we have a lot of bad people that have to get out of this country. We’re going to get them out, and the police know who they are. They’re known by law enforcement who they are. We don’t do anything. They go around killing people and hurting people, and they’re going to be out of this country so fast your head will spin. We have existing laws that allow you to do that.”…

“As far as everybody else, we’re going to go through the process,” Trump said. “What people don’t know is that Obama got tremendous numbers of people out of the country. Bush, the same thing. Lots of people were brought out of the country with the existing laws. Well, I’m going to do the same thing.”…

O’Reilly said that he suggested detention centers because Trump had previously likened his plans to mass deportations carried out during the 1950s under President Dwight D. Eisenhower.

“I said that it’s something that has been done in a very strong manner,” Trump said, explaining why he had originally referenced the historic deportations. “I don’t agree with that. I’m not talking about detention centers. I have very, very good relationships with a lot of people, a lot of Hispanic people. We’re talking about it.”

He’s now sunk to the point where’s citing Barack Obama and George Bush as models of immigration enforcement. It’s hard to argue with Greg Sargent’s takeaways on how this new position effectively eviscerates Trump’s immigration cred. On the one hand, Trump is undermining his fans’ complaint about “open borders,” i.e. foreigners entering the U.S. with impunity. If Obama’s and Bush’s deportation policies are effective enough that they should be emulated and built upon then obviously enforcement is happening. In Trump’s own words: “Obama got tremendous numbers of people out of the country.” The borders need to be tightened but clearly they’re not “open” in the sense of Obama accepting all comers. Beyond that, says Sargent, Trump is admitting that Obama’s enforcement priorities are correct: Deport the criminals, worry less about everyone else. There’s broad consensus on that across parties, I believe, including among many border hawks — but less so among Trump and his nationalist fans, who want all illegals out as a matter of national sovereignty and cultural preservation. Removing the criminals first may be acceptable to them as a matter of prudence but only if the nonviolent ones follow too. And yet here he is, three months out from the general election, seemingly shifting to the more conventional Republican view that deportation should be used for violent illegals but maybe not for the rest.

He’s going to spend the rest of the campaign, I assume, trying to reassure his base that he’s still a tough guy on immigration by (a) talking about “the wall” at every opportunity, as if that’s going to be built or would even make a significant difference in illegal immigration if it was and (b) emphasizing that, unlike Hillary, he will not tolerate a path to citizenship for illegals even if he agrees to legalize them. (The low-energy Jeb Bush position.) Which, ironically, defeats some of the purpose of this pander to swing voters. Democrats will use his “legalization, not citizenship” stance to say that he supports perpetual second-class status for illegals and their chidlren, which fits easily into their attack lines about “Trump the bigot.” That’ll blunt some of the support he’s hoping to earn in the middle, and meanwhile his backtrack on mass deportation will annoy some of his supporters on the right. No one on either side seriously believes that legalization without citizenship is viable long-term either, I think. You could maybe get that policy passed and implemented short-term, but eventually legalization would be upgraded to citizenship as the two parties compete for Latino votes in future elections and the left agitates against the “Jim Crow status quo.” If Trump’s going to cave, he might as well cave now on citizenship too and at least get some credit for a full reversal towards the mainstream position. His fans, who seems willing to forgive him anything, will probably forgive him for this too. Probably.

Here he is last night on O’Reilly, followed by a very different-sounding Trump from last year.