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Opinion Trump just admitted his entire immigration posture is a big scam

Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump repeated his pitch to minority voters in Ohio on Aug. 22, asking them "What do you have to lose?" (Video: The Washington Post)
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Donald Trump is currently running an ad in four swing states that graphically depicts the southern border as being overrun by dark hordes. It flatly states that in Hillary Clinton’s America, the borders will be “open.” And it promises a hyper-tough response from President Trump, which is illustrated with cops carefully scanning the border and images of helicopters patrolling for fleeing invaders.

This represents the larger tale that Trump has been telling about immigration for the last year, one that is central to his whole candidacy: Unlike our current, feckless, “politically correct” leaders, who are not enforcing immigration laws and as a result allowing undocumented immigrants to snatch jobs from Americans, only Trump is tough, savvy at management, and “politically incorrect” enough to do what really must be done: Expel all undocumented immigrants as quickly as possible, to Make America Safe And Great Again.

But in an interview with Bill O’Reilly, in which he responded to reports that he’s backing off of his vow of mass deportations — a promise he’s made many times — Trump basically admitted the whole story he’s been telling about immigration for the last year is a big scam.

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Asked directly by O’Reilly whether he is “really rethinking your mass deportation strategy,” Trump replied: “I just want to follow the law. What I’m doing is following the law….We’re going to obey the existing laws.” Trump added:

“The first thing we’re gonna do, if and when I win, is we’re gonna get rid of all the bad ones. We have gang members, we have killers, we have a lot of bad people that have to get out of this country…they’re gonna 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. 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.”

At another point, Trump was pressed on whether he agreed with President Eisenhower, whose Operation Wetback, as O’Reilly said, “rounded them up” and “took them out.” Trump replied: “I don’t agree with that. I’m not talking about detention centers.” What that means: What Trump called “everybody else” — i.e., lower level offenders with jobs and ties to communities — will remain subject to removal, but will not be targeted by proactive, stepped-up deportation efforts.

Here are the key takeaways from all this:

1) Trump tacitly conceded that our borders are not “open,” and that our laws are being enforced. In saying that “Obama got tremendous numbers of people out of the country,” by using “existing laws,” Trump admitted that in fact, under Obama, the borders are not open, and the laws are being enforced — Obama is in fact deporting people at a high rate. Those are extraordinary concessions, given that his entire candidacy rests so heavily on precisely the opposite assertions.

2) Trump tacitly admitted that Obama’s enforcement priorities are correct. In saying that “the first thing we’re gonna do” is “we’re gonna get rid of all the bad ones,” Trump basically endorsed what the Obama has been doing for the last five years — prioritizing the use of enforcement resources to remove the most serious threats, while temporarily de-prioritizing the removal of the rest. This amounts to another important concession: That this act of prioritization is not tantamount to a refusal to enforce the law — contradicting a claim Trump and Republicans have been making for years — and is consistent with the enforcement of our immigration laws.

3) But Trump did not make any meaningful outreach gesture towards Latinos. It’s crucial to understand that Trump only moved in Obama’s direction in a very limited way. While he did endorse Obama’s underlying enforcement priorities, he did not embrace the idea of either legalizing all the remaining lower level offenders or of using executive action to temporarily shield them from deportation and allow them to work, so they can come out of the shadows and pay taxes. Indeed, he repeatedly said that “existing laws” will remain in place. So Trump’s position — as of now, anyway — is that we should prioritize the removal of the most serious offenders, but all the rest should remain subject to removal, which is to say, in the shadows.

That is not a long term solution to the problem, and in the end, what all this really means is that Trump — the great fixer — is still not taking a real position on the core dilemma we face. We only have the resources to deport a fraction of the 11 million. And most people agree — many Republicans included — that many of those people are not mere criminals, but rather came here to work and better their lives in a manner consistent with American history and values, and are currently contributing to American life. So what should be done about them?

Democrats say we should focus those limited enforcement resources only on serious criminals, and in order to facilitate that and make our immigration machinery work more effectively in the national interest, we should create a path to assimilation — with penalties — for the rest, rather than continuing to leave them in limbo, subject to removal. Trump basically admitted Democrats are right about the former. He also implicitly conceded that the solution he has offered for the rest for the last year now — their proactive, speedy removal — isn’t going to happen, while still refusing to say what should ultimately be done about them. Trump did not know that he was admitting all of this, because he doesn’t understand the finer points of immigration policy. But that is what happened.

Trump has said he would force undocumented immigrants to leave the country as president, but some are questioning whether that's still the plan. (Video: Sarah Parnass/The Washington Post)


* CAN TRUMP SHIFT WITHOUT LOSING HIS BASE? Democratic strategist Simon Rosenberg emails this response to Trump’s latest:

“On immigration, Trump is learning that the extreme positions he’s championed may have helped him win the primary but they are a barrier for him to be competitive in the general election.  If he starts wavering now, the blowback from his own supporters is certain to be intense and could cause his entire candidacy to collapse without winning over any new voters he needs this fall.  This looks more desperate and craven than principled at this point.”

The reaction of Trump’s core supporters to all of this will be instructive.

* CLINTON STILL HOLDS SIZABLE NATIONAL LEAD: The new NBC News/Survey Monkey Tracking Poll finds Clinton leading Trump nationally by 50-42. Notably, Trump is only leading among men by 49-43 (Clinton leads among women by 56-35) and among whites by 50-41 (Clinton leads among Latinos by 73-22) and among blacks by 87-8).

Trump’s strategy of riding white male anger into the White House is going swimmingly.

* CLINTON WIDENS LEAD IN VIRGINIA: A new Roanoke College poll finds that Clinton now leads Trump by 55-36 in Virginia, and leads 48-32 in the four-way contest. Note this:

Clinton was preferred by likely voters to Trump on a variety of issues, including the economy (50-43), terrorism (55-38), health care (57-33), race relations (66-21), immigration (56-36), foreign policy (64-28), and firearms policy (47-43)….Clinton was also seen as a having a temperament that is fitting for president (72) compared to 28 percent for Trump.

Remarkable to see Clinton leading on guns in Virginia. The polling averages have the state a bit tighter, at 46-28, but plainly, Virginia is sliding off the map for Trump.

* TRUMP CAMPAIGN SENDING MIXED SIGNALS ON IMMIGRATION: The New York Times, in an article about whether Trump is backing off of mass deportations, serves up this remarkable paragraph:

The campaign has sent conflicting signals about whether Mr. Trump would actually change his proposals regarding immigration. He was expected to give a major immigration speech in Arizona, but it was moved to Colorado and planned for this Thursday. On Monday, the campaign canceled the speech without explanation and declined to discuss his latest thinking on immigration.

Look, the campaign has no idea where Trump really stands on these complicated issues, and neither does he.

* CLINTON OPENS CAMPAIGN OFFICE…IN UTAH: Today the Clinton campaign will open an office in Salt Lake City:

The last Democrat to win the Beehive state was Lyndon Johnson in 1964. President Barack Obama was defeated by John McCain and Mitt Romney by wide margins in his 2008 and 2012 bids for the state. In 1992, Bill Clinton actually finished third in the state, behind President George H.W. Bush and Ross Perot.

The polling averages put Trump up 36-28 in the state — single digits. Hillary chief strategist Joel Benenson recently floated the idea that Trump might be forced to play defense there.

* CLINTON TO TALK ABOUT ‘ALT-RIGHT’: A Clinton aide tells Politico:

“On Thursday…Hillary Clinton will campaign in Reno, Nevada, and deliver a speech to address Donald Trump and his advisors’ embrace of the disturbing ‘alt-right; political philosophy. This ‘alt-right; brand is embracing extremism and presenting a divisive and dystopian view of America which should concern all Americans, regardless of party.”

As I’ve speculated, Trump appears to be trying to build an “alt-right” following that he can leverage after an election loss. Good that Clinton will take this on.

* TRUMP’S ATTACKS ON CLINTON PLAY ON GENDER: The Associated Press raises the question of whether Trump’s attacks on Clinton traffic in gender stereotypes:

Trump and GOP backers are increasingly relying on rhetoric that academics and even some Republican strategists say has an undeniable edge focused on gender….He has repeatedly called attention to Clinton’s voice, saying listening to her gives him a headache. Last December, he mocked her wardrobe. “She puts on her pantsuit in the morning,” he told a Las Vegas audience. At rallies and in speeches, the billionaire mogul has also used stereotypes about women to demean Clinton.

Keep talking, Donald. Just keep talking.

What Donald Trump is doing on the campaign trail

MANCHESTER, NH - NOVEMBER 7: Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump speaks during a campaign event at SNHU Arena in Manchester, NH on Monday November 07, 2016. (Jabin Botsford/The Washington Post)