Im­mi­gra­tion stew

Our view: Trump hits the re­set but­ton on pol­icy again and again and again

Baltimore Sun - - FROM PAGE ONE -

To­day is a red-let­ter day for Repub­li­can pres­i­den­tial nom­i­nee Don­ald Trump as he un­veils — or per­haps the bet­ter word is “clar­i­fies” — his po­si­tion on im­mi­gra­tion in what has been billed as a ma­jor pol­icy ad­dress in Ari­zona. If re­cent his­tory is any guide, it should prove tough and soft, clear and opaque, un­for­giv­ing and hu­mane. In other words, good luck fig­ur­ing out where the re­al­ity TV star stands since he’s likely to dra­mat­i­cally change his po­si­tion, or have it rein­ter­preted by his min­ions, in the days and weeks that fol­low.

Rarely has a pres­i­den­tial can­di­date flip-flopped on an is­sue, par­tic­u­larly one that has been iden­ti­fied as a cor­ner­stone of his cam­paign, as thor­oughly as Mr. Trump has done on il­le­gal im­mi­gra­tion. Dur­ing the GOP pri­maries, he was a hard-core pro­po­nent of build­ing a wall along the na­tion’s south­ern bor­der and de­port­ing all 11 mil­lion peo­ple who have en­tered the coun­try il­le­gally by what­ever means nec­es­sary. In re­cent weeks, he has been “soft­en­ing” — the very word he has used to de­scribe it and more than once — with talk of not en­gag­ing a “de­por­ta­tion force” and set­ting “hu­mane” pri­or­i­ties that fo­cus on de­port­ing the “bad ones.”

Yet, par­tic­u­larly when ap­pear­ing on con­ser­va­tive me­dia like shows on the Fox News net­work, he has in­sisted that he’s not flip-flop­ping at all. One day he talks about the “very pow­er­ful wall” that he will build and that he is not open to any path­way to le­gal­iza­tion. Within hours, he gives a speech in Iowa de­scrib­ing im­mi­gra­tion as a “civil rights is­sue” and says he doesn’t in­tend to de­port ev­ery­one who has en­tered the coun­try il­le­gally af­ter all. Later, there is talk from a Trump ad­viser of a “vir­tual wall” in­stead of bricks and mor­tar, a claim the cam­paign later dis­avows.

Serv­ing as a spokesper­son for the Trump cam­paign clearly re­quires the flex­i­bil­ity of a Si­mone Biles at her Olympic best. On Sun­day, Mr. Trump’s run­ning mate, In­di­ana Gov. Mike Pence, said on CNN that the ticket’s po­si­tion has been con­sis­tent: “Let’s be clear, noth­ing has changed about Don­ald Trump’s po­si­tion on deal­ing with il­le­gal im­mi­gra­tion,” Mr. Pence said. Yet on a sim­i­lar Sun­day morn­ing talk show on Fox, Trump cam­paign man­ager Kellyanne Con­way con­ceded that a de­por­ta­tion force (a talk­ing point in the pri­maries) has been dropped. On NBC, Repub­li­can Na­tional Com­mit­tee Chair­man Reince Priebus sug­gested that the Trumpim­mi­gra­tion pol­icy was still be­ing banged out but pre­dicted it would prove “tough,” “fair” and “hu­mane.”

Here’s our read­ing of the tea leaves: Mr. Trump wants to take a po­si­tion on im­mi­gra­tion that will get him elected pres­i­dent. The ex­trem­ist views he es­poused dur­ing the pri­mary sea­son won’t get the job done, so he’s sim­ply try­ing to sound tough while sig­nal­ing to the His­panic com­mu­nity and in­de­pen­dent vot­ers that he hears their con­cerns as well. In his speech, he’ll likely toss around the usual anti-im­mi­gra­tion rhetoric — like op­pos­ing “amnesty” — with­out nec­es­sar­ily re­veal­ing what will hap­pen to those 11 mil­lion souls liv­ing in the shadows.

Con­sid­er­ing the can­di­date’s dis­dain for pol­icy specifics, this level of im­pre­ci­sion and pre­var­i­ca­tion should come rather eas­ily. His re­cent outreach to African-Amer­i­can vot­ers has been sim­i­larly de­void of sub­stance, of­ten in­sult­ing and seem­ingly more fo­cused on less­en­ing his rep­u­ta­tion for racism than ac­tu­ally so­lic­it­ing sup­port from black vot­ers. Typ­i­cal was his so­cial me­dia post­ing ac­cus­ing Hil­lary Clin­ton of be­ing a “bigot” be­cause she once de­scribed the late Sen. Robert Byrd as a “men­tor” while serv­ing in the U.S. Se­nate. The West Vir­ginia se­na­tor was once a sup­porter of the Ku Klux Klan (not to men­tion a civil rights op­po­nent) un­til he had a change of heart decades ago. Had David Duke and other pro-Trump white su­prem­a­cists sim­i­larly re­nounced their racist views, Mr. Trump might de­serve the ben­e­fit of the doubt as well.

That’s not to sug­gest, a bit of flip-flop­ping wouldn’t serve Mr. Trump well. His po­si­tions on im­mi­gra­tion, par­tic­u­larly those from the early days of his cam­paign when he equated Mex­i­cans with rapists, have of­ten been shame­ful. But how could any­one pos­si­bly be­lieve him now? As even die-hard con­ser­va­tive talk show host Rush Lim­baugh ob­served this week, Mr. Trump can’t be taken se­ri­ously on the sub­ject of im­mi­gra­tion.

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