Opinion writer

(Reuters/Carlo Allegri)

THE MORNING PLUM:

Donald Trump gave an extended interview to CNN’s Anderson Cooper last night, in which he tried to clear up all the uncertainty surrounding his position on mass deportations. His interview is being widely faulted for adding more confusion.

In reality, Trump made his position on immigration perfectly clear. It’s this: All the 11 million undocumented immigrants still remain targets for deportation. We’ll go after the worst ones first, because I recognize that not all of them are full blown criminals — I have a tremendously big heart, believe me — but we will probably have to target the rest for removal later. And there is no meaningful path to legal status for any of them.

The most important claim Trump made is that under his plan, “there is no path to legalization, unless they leave the country and come back.” This is widely — and rightly — being interpreted as confirmation that Trump will offer no path to legal status for the 11 million that doesn’t require them to leave the country first.

But Trump actually went further than that. Many have speculated that Trump left an opening to create a process by which undocumented immigrants (“the good ones,” anyway) can leave and come back via an expedited path to legal status.

Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump has said over and over he would force undocumented immigrants to leave the country as president. Now a meeting with a Hispanic advisory panel and statements from his surrogates are calling into question whether that's still the plan. (Sarah Parnass/The Washington Post)

But Trump actually said, in a tacit way, that this will not happen. He said — repeatedly — that his plan would be carried out under “existing law.” He said: “We’re going to go with the laws that are existing.” If this is true, then Trump has foreclosed the option of an expedited path to legal status for those who leave the country, because the creation of such a path would require a change in the law.

“Under existing law, undocumented immigrants who leave the U.S. are barred for returning for up to 10 years, and in some cases, permanently,” immigration lawyer David Leopold tells me. “The notion that they can leave and come back is meaningless without a legislative overhaul.”

Trump basically confirmed this himself. He said: “If somebody wants to go the legalization route, what they’ll do is they’ll go, leave the country, hopefully come back in. And then we can talk.” In other words, no path to legal status until you leave and come back, but we won’t even discuss that until you’ve left and returned.

Thus, under Trump’s plan (which is subject to change) there is no meaningful path to legal status at all. That’s because for many undocumented immigrants, leaving the country for long periods of time could mean uprooted families, moving out of homes, and abandoning jobs and communities, making it prohibitive, Leopold argues. “People won’t do it,” he says.

Now, deportations. Trump said repeatedly that “the bad ones” will be deported first. In so doing, Trump confirmed again that the enforcement priorities Obama has implemented for the last five years are correct. But, crucially, Trump made it clear that the rest remain targets. Asked whether the rest will be deported, Trump replied: “We’re going to see what happens once we strengthen up our border.” And when Cooper said that “the vast majority of those 11 million are not criminals,” Trump replied: “We don’t know that. We’re going to find out who they are.”

Translation: The good ones remain targets for deportation, though I’m not saying for sure whether I’ll deport them. That’s a slight shift from mass deportations, but it’s nothing like what Obama and Hillary Clinton — or even some Republicans — want. They favor taking their removal completely off the table, for the sake of the national interest, to rationalize enforcement resources and because they are more than simply criminals. They are currently contributing to American life, and their emigration was born of morally complex circumstances — they were trying to better their lives and their families’ future prospects — and is in keeping with American history and values.

Trump’s rhetoric right now reflects a search for a magic formula. He wants to reassure suburban white swing voters — who essentially favor mass assimilation because they see most undocumented immigrants as largely making a positive contribution — that he isn’t proposing to cruelly ship out millions, which would be costly and disruptive to families and communities. So he says, don’t worry, we’re only starting with the bad ones, and the status of the good ones may be subject to negotiation later. In other words, he compassionately recognizes that many of them are good people — they’re not all merely criminals. But he also wants to reassure the hardliners, so he indicates that they all are still subject to removal, which is code for indicating that he is not making mass assimilation the goal.

In the end, though, Trump’s actual position, for now at least, is defined by the latter. The prospective goal is not mass assimilation. It’s shrinkage and removal — beyond just the “bad ones.” There is no straddle that works. There is no magic formula here.

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* TRUMP’S VERSION OF MINORITY ‘OUTREACH’: The Washington Post reports on Trump’s evolving “minority outreach” strategy:

He has increased the number of minority surrogates speaking on his behalf on cable news and at his rallies, and he is planning to take trips into urban areas soon to visit churches….The purpose of this pitch is not only to reach out to minority voters but also to soften Trump’s image among white moderates, notably women, who have been taken aback by Trump’s rhetoric. He has delivered the vast majority of his speeches to overwhelmingly white crowds, even when he appears in cities with large minority populations.

It’s shocking that this is not improving Trump’s numbers among nonwhites, or perhaps even among its real target, suburban white swing voters.

* TRUMP’S BAFFLING STRATEGY ON RACE: Trump keeps calling Clinton a “bigot” and “racist.” The New York Times reports that Republicans are scratching their heads:

Some Republicans privately questioned why, instead of shifting the discussion of immigration to economic concerns, which polls show is a dominant issue in the election, Mr. Trump has continued to draw attention to his detractors’ claims that he is a bigot.

Because Trump can’t help himself and has no strategy or conception of how to actually win? Just a thought.

* HOW CONSERVATIVES READ CLINTON’S SPEECH: David Drucker reports that conservatives see Clinton’s “alt-right” speech as an attempt to peel off moderate Republicans and conservative leaning swing voters uncomfortable with Trump. As one puts it:

“Her logo may be ‘I’m With Her,’ but it makes all the sense in the world to ask moderate and more mainstream conservative Republicans if they’re with him. And, in the case of the alt-right, if they’re with them.”

The “alt-right” as a wedge.

* CLINTON HOLDS SLIM LEAD IN FLORIDA: Marc Caputo reports on a new Mason Dixon poll that puts Clinton ahead by only 44-42 over Trump in Florida. Note this:

Hispanics back Clinton by 63–27 percent over Trump and African-Americans by an eye-popping spread of 91–5 percent. Women support Clinton 51-37 percent over Trump. Trump is clobbering her among non-Hispanic whites by 54–29 percent. Men support him over Clinton by 47–36 percent.

Five percent of African Americans? Looks like claiming Obama isn’t really American and calling Clinton a “bigot” is paying off. The polling averages have Clinton up nearly four points.

* DEMS REFRAIN FROM TYING REPUBLICANS TO TRUMP: Roll Call’s Alex Roarty has an interesting catch: Many Senate Democratic candidates are actually refraining from tying vulnerable GOP incumbents to Trump in their paid ads, though that could change. Here’s why:

Democratic strategists say the party has avoided focusing heavily on Trump in paid media for many reasons, including the belief that in a battleground Senate map chock full of blue states, the traditional playbook against Republican candidates (focusing on cultural issues and entitlement programs) is still effective.  They also caution that the party shouldn’t lean too heavily into a message that, because of the nature of the presidential race, is already well-known to many voters.

One thing to watch for is whether GOP incumbents are achieving separation from Trump even as they support him.

* GOP TO TRUMP: MODERATE! MODERATE! MODERATE! Politico surveys a lot of GOP insiders and finds they really want Trump to soften:

Sixty-four percent of Republicans said Trump should moderate his immigration policies when he unveils a complete plan, particularly previous suggestions that the government should deport all of the undocumented immigrants in the country.

Well, he isn’t actually doing that. So will pretending to moderate suffice?

 * TRUMP’S ‘DELUSIONS OF DYSTOPIA’: Paul Krugman runs through all the reasons Trump’s depiction of America as a crime-ridden, nightmarish hellscape is completely out of touch with reality, and concludes:

Today’s increasingly multiracial, multicultural society is a nightmare for people who want a white, Christian nation in which lesser breeds know their place. And those are the people Mr. Trump has brought out into the open.

Indeed, Clinton’s speech should be read as the most expansive indictment yet from a prominent Democrat of Trump’s overall narrative that white America is under siege.