This makes zero sense. Why would Trump feed a bunch of news anchors a false story about being open to amnesty, knowing how that would needlessly panic his base, when he was hours away from the biggest triumph of his presidency? Having prepared a tasty feast in his speech before Congress that evening, he decided to take a dump on it in a private meeting with the media, of all people, because he thought Wolf Blitzer and Jake Tapper would be jazzed to hear him talk about legalizing illegals?
But when it was time for Trump to actually give the speech, he said nothing of the sort. CNN’s Sara Murray complained the next day about “the bait and switch that the president pulled when it came to immigration yesterday. He had this meeting with the anchors, he talked about a path to legal status.”
“Basically they fed [them] things that they thought these anchors would like, that they thought would give them positive press coverage for the next few hours. A senior administration official admitted that it was a misdirection play,” she reported.
Host John King wondered why reporters should even trust the White House going forward.
Total idiocy. Trump gained nothing from his late-afternoon amnesty scare. Any “good buzz” he received from the headlines about it was destined to be washed away by coverage of his speech that evening, making it not worth doing. (Especially when that coverage was bound to note, a la the clips below, that he didn’t mention his big immigration reform plans to Congress.) Why would he have cared about three hours of positive chatter on immigration when he was headed for 24 hours of positive chatter for a totally different reason, as he must have known after reading the draft of his address? Also, it’s a really bad sign for border hawks if Trump was mulling over topics that he thought might get people excited politically and he seized on amnesty as a winner. A president who craves praise and knows he can get it by talking about immigration reform will eventually try to pass immigration reform.
Meanwhile, he gave border hawks new reason to doubt his commitment to blocking legalization for illegals. The counterargument to that, I suppose, is that border hawks should feel somehow reassured today that Trump didn’t bring up amnesty in his speech after all, but that’s hard to swallow give how many times he’s flirted with the idea of legal status. He suggested to the Times editorial board last year that he was open to some sort of compromise; he had a period last summer when he talked about “softening” on immigration before reverting to a Trumpier posture; he told a group of senators a few weeks ago that he’d consider an immigration reform bill if they came to him with some ideas; and then yesterday, again, he talked up some sort of broad-based deal with Democrats. He’s been asked about DREAMers repeatedly since the election and never once has hinted at anything except legalization for them. Obama’s DACA amnesty, which Trump promised to rescind during the campaign, remains in force today, not only for current enrollees but for new enrollees. Many thousands of young illegals have had their work permits under Obama’s program renewed since Trump took office. Does that sound like a guy who’s engaged in a “misdirection play”?
One of two things happened yesterday. First possibility: He used the lunch with the media to float amnesty as a trial balloon, knowing that it wouldn’t do too much damage among his base given how pleased they were bound to be with his speech later that evening. Let’s toss the subject out there to see how people react, he might have figured, knowing that it wouldn’t be addressed in the speech and therefore he’d have plausible deniability about his sincerity (misdirection play!) afterward. Maybe it didn’t go as well as he liked, so now here’s the walkback. “Misdirection play,” bro. Total goof on the media! Second, likelier possibility: It’s been observed before that Trump is very susceptible to being influenced by a private audience, especially on immigration. This goes back to his pre-presidential days, when he met with a group of DREAMers several years ago about legalization and ended up telling them, “You convinced me.” Last summer’s brief “softening” on immigration was apparently inspired by a meeting with his Hispanic Advisory Council. Seeing enthusiasm for immigration reform among the senators he met with last month might have encouraged him to take another look at the idea. And being quizzed by the obviously pro-amnesty media yesterday might have led him back to talking about a “softening” if the deal from Democrats is right. That not a “misdirection play,” though, aimed at delivering a Nelson-Muntz-style “HA-ha” at the press’s expense by jerking them around. (Again, how much is that worth to Trump compared to the jitters it gives his base to hear him sound rosy about amnesty?) It’s a matter of him not being totally committed to his position on immigration and aiming to please the people in front of him when he’s in a small group and on the spot.
If you want reassurance that he’s not going to sell out on immigration, ignore the nonsense from CNN’s source here and their credulous reactions to it and remind yourself that Steve Bannon and Stephen Miller seem to be his most influential advisors. And they’re not going to bend easily on legalization, even for DREAMers.