The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Opinion One of Trump’s biggest lies is falling apart. So naturally, he’s blaming the media for it.

Donald Trump vowed to remove criminal illegal immigrants from the U.S. "on day one" if elected president. (Video: The Washington Post)


The Grand Trumpian Immigration Follies of 2016 are set to take another turn: Donald Trump has now announced that he will give a major speech (does any Trump speech fail to merit that label?) on the issue on Wednesday, in which he is expected to finally clarify his stance on mass deportations. Trump veep candidate Mike Pence promised yesterday that Trump would clarify it.

But it is more likely that instead of clarifying his stance on mass deportations, Trump will instead try to shift the subject away from them entirely. That’s because Trump’s big lie about mass deportations — i.e., that he would carry them out swiftly and humanely, thus Making America Great Again — is falling apart. And he’s now trying to replace that lie by foregrounding another lie.

Trump previewed his speech at a rally over the weekend, at which he said this:

“In recent days, the media, as it usually does, has missed the whole point on immigration. They have missed the whole point. All the media wants to talk about is the 11 million people — or more, or less, they have no idea what the number is because we have no control over our country; they have no idea what it is — that are here illegally.
“But my priority, and really, it’s for the well being of everybody, but in particular the 300 million Americans and more, and all of our Hispanic citizens, and all of our African American citizens, legal residents who want a secure border. And I mean secure….my goal is to provide good jobs, and even great jobs, good schools and safety, to every Hispanic community, African American community, in the country….we can’t do that if we don’t secure our border….On Day One, I’m going to begin swiftly removing criminal illegal immigrants from this country.”

The idea that we have “no control” over our border is not true. As Jerry Markon reported, as of one year ago, most available evidence indicated that thanks in part to stepped up border security efforts in recent years, “illegal immigration flows have fallen to their lowest level in at least two decades.” But beyond that, let’s pause to marvel at the spectacle of Trump blaming the media for this focus on mass deportations. That promise has been key to Trump’s candidacy for over a year. As early as August of 2015 Trump was already saying on national television that all undocumented immigrants in this country “have to go.” A month later he said that his plan was to round them up “in a humane way.” A couple months after that Trump indicated that “they’re gonna have to go out,” and if not, “we don’t have a country.” In February of this year Trump said: “We have at least 11 million people in this country that came in illegally. They will go out.”

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Now Trump insists that the aspect of his plan that really matters is his pledge to secure the border. Now, it’s true that Trump has long emphasized border security. But Trump also frequently vowed mass deportations, and that probably helped him win the nomination. Poll after poll after poll showed that GOP voters supported this goal.

The real reason Trump is now shifting away from mass deportations is almost too obvious to restate: It is probably alienating the college educated whites and white women — swing constituencies — that he simply must improve among if he is to have a chance at winning. And so, Trump is now downplaying this goal, by saying that his priority is to remove “criminal” illegal immigrants. The game here is to sound more reasonable to swing voters who are horrified by mass deportations and generally support mass assimilation, by projecting a recognition that not all of them are full blown criminals. He compassionately understands that many of them are “good ones,” believe me! But in so doing, Trump is still preserving his underlying stance that all the 11 million generally remain targets for removal. He even told CNN that there’s a “very good chance” that all the rest would be deported later. This isn’t as crazy as vowing proactive, immediate mass deportations. But it still is not an actual solution. At best, it is tantamount to leaving them all in the shadows for an indefinite period, or a reversion to Mitt Romney’s absurd “self deportation” stance. In reality it probably means they’ll all have to go.

And this leads to the ultimate point: Donald Trump’s deportation problem is the GOP’s deportation problem. Many Republican lawmakers — including GOP leaders — generally support the goal of legalization. They recognize that the most realistic solution for the 11 million — the one that would best serve the national interest — is some kind of path to assimilation, combined with penalties and increased border security. They also recognize that long term demographic and political realities compel this stance.

But the party has refrained from embracing that solution, because the base won’t allow it. For years, that forced many Republicans to continue saying the 11 million should be subject to removal, but when pressed, they tended to fudge on whether this means they all should be deported right way, since that’s politically and substantively untenable. Instead they took refuge in the platitude that we should merely “enforce the law,” without saying exactly what that should mean. What it really means is, leave most of them in the shadows indefinitely.

Trump is now being forced to sever himself from his explicit mass deportations pledge. And this is forcing him to adopt the GOP’s platitudinous “enforce the law” position.  We’ve come full circle: On deportations, the GOP nominee is now pretty much where most Republicans have publicly been. Thus, in his speech, he will probably revert to a vow to target criminals first while more generally promising to “enforce the law” to deal with the rest. But Trump — as the GOP nominee and as someone whose entire campaign is built on the idea that illegal immigrants are nothing more than criminal invaders — is facing a much higher level of media scrutiny on this issue than GOP lawmakers have to date, rendering that long-held GOP position untenable for him in a way it wasn’t for other Republicans.


* DEMS MORE OPTIMISTIC ABOUT WINNING HOUSE: The New York Times reports that Democrats are laying the groundwork to expand the map of GOP-held House seats that they are targeting:

Democrats are particularly enticed by Mr. Trump’s dwindling support in affluent suburban areas — including those near Kansas City, Kan.; San Diego; Orlando, Fla.; and Minneapolis — where Republicans ordinarily win with ease. Mr. Trump is so disliked among college-educated voters, especially white women, that he is at risk of losing by double digits in several districts that the 2012 Republican nominee, Mitt Romney, carried comfortably.

The question is whether Trump’s continued alienation of college educated whites and white women will end up putting more GOP-leaning seats into play. Trump shows no signs of turning that problem around.

 * TRUMP EXPANDS HIS AD BUY: NBC News reports that Trump is going up in additional states with a new ad about the economy:

The ad highlights the GOP nominee’s economic message, contrasting the “two Americas” envisioned by Hillary Clinton and Trump. The campaign had previously aired ads in Ohio, Pennsylvania, North Carolina and Florida. The new buy also expands to New Hampshire, Iowa, Nevada, Virginia and Colorado.

It’s interesting that Trump is spending money in Virginia and Colorado, states that many operatives on both sides believe have slipped away from him. He’s playing defense. Sad!

 * TOO LATE FOR TRUMP? REPUBLICANS SAY YES: Politico reports that some Republicans think there isn’t enough time left for him to turn it around:

Early voting begins in 26 days in Minnesota and in 32 other states soon after that. And already, as summer inches to its end, 90 percent of Americans say they’ve decided. For all the televised daily drama this race has provided, the final outcome itself is shaping up to be less dramatic than any presidential election since 1984….The cascade of Trump-created controversies following the conventions…appear to have irrevocably damaged his credibility as a plausible commander in chief and could prove to be the turning point in the general election itself.

It really was helpful that Trump decided to pick a fight with the Khans that effectively reinforced all of the messages coming out of the Democratic convention.

* TRUMP ADVISER CLARIFIES KEY IMMIGRATION POINT: On Fox News Sunday, top Trump adviser Kellyanne Conway explained Trump’s approach to legalization this way:

“What he has said is no legalization and no amnesty….if you go back to your home country and if you’d like it come back to the United States as an immigrant, you need apply through the many different channels that allow people to apply for citizenship or entry into the United States legally….We all learned in kindergarten to stand in line, to wait our turn.”

This appears to mean no change in the law, and no expedited path to legal status after leaving the country and returning. For the reasons I’ve outlined, this means no meaningful path to legalization.

* WHY CLINTON’S OUTREACH TO REPUBLICANS MATTERS: E.J. Dionne suggests that Clinton’s efforts to exploit Trump’s unpopularity to make inroads among Republicans could have long term implications:

Any long-term electoral effect of the rise of Clinton Republicans is likely to be felt among the white college-educated voters whom Trump has so alienated….Clinton’s hope if she wins is that the existence of Clinton Republicans will make her relations with the GOP in Congress easier. Especially if Democrats take the Senate, Republicans in the House — even if they keep their majority — might give her some room to win legislative victories, particularly on immigration reform and large-scale infrastructure investment.

Of course, Trump’s voters might demand that Republican lawmakers refuse any cooperation with Clinton, since they are already being persuaded that the election’s outcome will be illegitimate (if Trump loses, naturally).

* THE SUNDAY SHOW QUOTE OF THE DAY: On Meet the Press, RNC chair Reince Priebus was asked whether Trump’s efforts to (rhetorically) soften his stance on mass deportations. Priebus replied, in part:

“Donald Trump understands that with every position that is taken and as you get closer to the White House, a degree of humanity and decency is part of every decision that needs to be made….this is a good and decent man that wants to do the right thing and wants to take every position that he’s talking about and pepper it with decency, dignity and humanity.”

As Sopan Deb joked, does this mean Trump saw no need to show decency and humanity during the GOP primaries?

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)