After months of gleefully vilifying Jeb Bush and other Republican primary opponents as soft on immigration, Donald Trump is trying to back off of his ridiculously unworkable and divisive pledge to deport 11 million undocumented immigrants.
Not surprisingly, the vanquished Republican Establishment is raining I-told-you-so’s down on his head.
In true Trumpian Drama King style, he’s making it even worse for himself by turning this long-expected general-election pivot into a drawn-out reality TV drama.
One minute he says he’s still aiming to deport undocumented immigrants and build that “big beautiful wall” that Mexico’s going to pay for. Then the next he’s saying he’s not against allowing the “good” immigrants to stay, provided they pay back taxes.
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Which, of course, implies granting them some sort of legal status – also known as amnesty.
Trump later insisted that that is not amnesty, adding that they’d have to leave the country before being allowed back. This, he said, is a “hardening” rather than softening of his position. Surrogates, meanwhile, are struggling to explain that the kinder, gentler position is not inconsistent with the old forced deportation plan.
“He hasn’t changed his position,” Trump spokeswoman Katrina Pierson said on CNN. “He has changed the word he is saying.”
Which of course made the other panelists burst out laughing.
You can’t blame GOP establishment types for piling on with I-told-you-so’s. Trump’s immigration plan was juvenile and irresponsible, and tarnished the GOP’s brand.
His new idea, muddled though it remains, echoes key elements of the so-called Gang of Eight comprehensive immigration reform plan that died in Congress, not to mention Jeb Bush’s immigration reform plan.
Former House Majority Leader Eric Cantor tweeted that he’s glad to see Trump finally embrace Jeb Bush’s plan. Trump surely chafes at the thought that people believe he’s now copying “low energy” Jeb Bush on the signature issue of his campaign.
But he clearly has no choice. General election voters proved smarter and more pragmatic than Trump suspected. They know he can’t build a wall. They know Mexico isn’t going to pay for it. They know no actual president in his or her right mind would seriously consider rounding up 11 million people and busing them to the border.
They saw Trump’s proposal for what it was – a cartoonish pipe dream. And it made them see the man proposing it as someone who is not approaching the business of being president in a serious and thoughtful manner. And so, they have turned away from him.
He finds himself in the double bind of trying to convince those voters he can be a serious candidate without turning off the base voters for whom the idea of mass deportation, as impractical as it is, holds great appeal.
Sarah Palin is urging him not to backtrack. Bush and other Republicans are calling him a hypocrite for adopting positions for which he once excoriated them.
Trump can’t win on this one. And it’s a big factor in why he likely won’t win on Nov. 8, either.