I feel the same way tonight as I felt during the closing ceremony of the Olympics. After two weeks of suspense, joy, sadness, and sheer spectacle, the curtain comes down on the greatest show on earth, with Trump shaking the Magic Eightball one last time to tell us where he really stands on amnesty. His long-awaited speech on immigration in Phoenix is set for 9 p.m. ET and should be carried live on the cable news networks. Tune in now if you’re around a TV.
I don’t mean to oversell the mystery. It’s a cinch that he won’t endorse legalizing illegals after catching some flak for teasing that idea on Hannity’s show a week ago. It’s also a seemingly sure thing that he won’t call for a special “deportation force” to round up illegals and send them packing. We’re likely to get a pitch about enforcing the laws we already have with a heavy emphasis on deporting illegals who have committed serious crimes first. The mystery has to do with how specific or not he is about removing nonviolent illegals. Will he back touchback amnesty, with illegals required to leave the U.S. in order to qualify for legal reentry? Will he support “internal touchback,” in which illegals merely need to find the nearest consulate of their home country within the United States and register for legal status that way? Or will he punt the entire subject by saying that legalization is a subject for another day, after America’s enforcement mechanisms have improved?
Smart money’s on door number three.
But, following a week in which Trump and his allies have seemed to waffle on his precise policy views, the speech will likely do less to clarify Trump’s position on whether and how to deport millions of undocumented immigrants than to redirect the issue toward less perilous political turf…
Trump now appears to have settled on a new manner of discussing his immigration views, if not a revised stance. He will focus on border security, as has been the tack of many Republicans, while leaving the question of illegal immigrants already in the country to sort out later.
“He wasn’t softening on anything. He didn’t change his stance on anything,” Donald Trump Jr. said Tuesday on CNN. But while Donald Trump still plans to deport illegal immigrants in the country, his son insisted, “You have to start with baby steps.”…
Trump’s new campaign manager, Kellyanne Conway, told Fox News Radio on Tuesday that securing the border with a wall would “absolutely” take precedence over mass deportations.
“Security first” is the smart (i.e. safe) play politically, which is why so many Republicans — including Marco Rubio — end up gravitating towards it. If Trump can show meaningful gains in enforcement as president, starting with the wall, E-Verify, better tracking of visas, and accelerated removal of criminals, the public will be sufficiently impressed and grateful not to hassle him too much if/when he caves on legalization. (Obama has set a low bar on deportations too, which would make it easy for Trump to improve on that metric even if he’s not deporting nonviolent illegals en masse.) If I had to bet, I’d bet that he’ll say something vague about illegals needing to atone for entering the country illegally, which would give President Trump the option later of everything from an amnesty conditioned on back taxes to a deportation/touchback scheme, but ultimately settling on a “we’ll hash it out once the border is secure” dodge. Whatever ends up happening with illegals who are here currently, he should stress, our goal should be to make sure that our children never need to wrestle with the problem of a new mass amnesty a generation from now. I think even some Democrats would respond to that pitch.
Oh, and expect a lot of rhetoric tonight about treating illegals humanely, which Team Trump has decided is important in trying to convince white college grads and other swing voters to give him a second look. To see why, look no further than YouGov:
Trumpers are hardline about immigration. Non-Trumpers aren’t. Trumpers not only support requiring illegals to leave, they back the idea of a border wall with Mexico by a nearly unanimous margin of 82/5, per YouGov. Among all registered voters, the split is 40/45 against a wall. According to a new troll poll by left-leaning PPP, 31 percent of Trumpers would even support building a wall, um, on the Atlantic Ocean to keep out Muslims from the Middle East. And of course Trumpers are also far less likely than most Americans are to see Trump’s recent immigration positions as inconsistent. They split 65/27 on whether he’s been consistent or not; the wider public splits 32/57. He’s going to get the benefit of the doubt from his fans tonight no matter what he says, which is why he can afford to leave his position on legalizing illegals ambiguous. If they’re not going to hold him accountable, why should he volunteer to pin himself down to a particular policy?
One more recent data point on immigration, this time per PRRI:
— PRRI (@PRRIpoll) August 30, 2016
Even most Trump fans would tolerate letting illegals stay, although things get sticky when you push for full citizenship rather than permanent residency.
Here’s the thread for the speech. While we wait, enjoy this musical tribute to “Amnesty Don” from former crony turned bitter enemy Joe Scarborough.