Opinion writer

(David Paul Morris/Bloomberg)

THE MORNING PLUM:

The New York Times has obtained a “script” that Donald Trump advisers and senior Republicans have created for him to use at the black church he’s visiting tomorrow. Everyone had a good chortle about this, but really, it isn’t all that different from the sort of standard issue talking points that candidates and surrogates employ regularly.

This script, though, is particularly noteworthy as more than a laugh line: It sheds some light on a deep split, an indecisiveness, that seems to have taken hold of the Trump campaign, at least in terms of its messaging.

Basically, the script advises Trump to stick to standard conservative boilerplate. The Republican agenda is color-blind. The best hope for enhancing opportunity for African Americans is cutting regulations and getting government out of the way to unshackle the power of free markets to “expand options for people who want to be independent of government.” The major thing holding African Americans back is the “horrible progressive agenda that has perpetuated a permanent underclass in America.”

This confirms something this blog has discussed before: Trump’s new team of handlers is trying to morph him into a more conventional Republican on race in particular, by getting him to stick to a broad indictment of liberal Democratic rule as the primary culprit in holding African Americans back. Airbrushed out of the Trump narration are the more patronizing layers he has been heaping on top of this basic storyline — the exaggerated depiction of African American life as an irredeemable hellscape; the idea that African Americans mindlessly choose the party that’s trying to hold them back.

In an effort to flip the script and court African American voters, Republican nominee Donald Trump is trying to broaden his appeal by attending Saturday service at a black church in Detroit. While some welcome his presence, many prominent African American pastors in the community are less enthused and more skeptical of his intentions. (Alice Li/The Washington Post)

Those Trump moments probably damaged him further among African Americans, and, in part because they created big media controversies that angered them, probably did nothing to help him with college educated whites, who view him unfavorably and believe he is running a racist, divisive campaign.  Trump campaign manager Kellyanne Conway has explicitly said Trump “deserves credit” for merely taking his case to black communities. This new script suggests that his advisers are merely hoping to get him in and out of them — thus securing him credit for showing up — without doing more damage.

But those additional patronizing layers aren’t really examples of Trump going “off script.” They are Trump’s script. They are natural expressions of his whole approach, i.e., the idea that only he is politically incorrect enough to tell the truth about what is happening to America, even if it pisses a lot of people off, and by extension, only he is tough enough to deal with it. The new script isn’t simply designed to keep him from going off script. It’s a rewrite of his script.

Indeed, in that context, note the contrast between this new script on race and his approach on immigration. After what appeared to be weeks of indecision, rather than softening his approach to the issue, he opted for full-blown xenophobia and a re-commitment to the proposal that brought him to the GOP dance — mass deportations. The Post reports today that this came after an intense disagreement inside the campaign:

Some Trump advisers told him that many voters like his stubborn dedication to issues that other politicians won’t touch, and warned that flip-flopping on immigration would make him no different from the career politicians he has accused of being “weak” and beholden to donors.

These advisers urged Trump to use tough, nativist language in his immigration speech in Phoenix on Wednesday to create as sharp a contrast as possible with Clinton. They argued that by showing strength and force of leadership, Trump will attract undecided voters.

On immigration, then, Trump’s brain trust decided to go with the magic of the original brand of Trumpism — the original script. Meanwhile, on race, the brain trust is trying to turn him into a plastic imitation of a conventional Republican — by giving him a new script.

The whole ball game now comes down to whether Trump can improve among college educated whites, suburban whites, and white women. In the quest to do that, it seems as if the campaign is now struggling with the question of how, or even whether, to dilute that mystical formula that won the nomination for him. Diluting it risks undermining his appeal to his supporters — what makes Trump Trump, as it were. Yet the formula is toxic to any efforts to expand his appeal.

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* CLINTON ALLIES SEE MANY PATHS TO VICTORY: Politico’s Annie Karni reports that Clinton allies see three separate and distinct paths through the electoral college to the White House:

Clinton allies see an East Coast path, for instance, which would guarantee 317 electoral votes by picking up New Hampshire, Pennsylvania, Virginia, North Carolina and Florida; a wholly separate Latino strategy that would put her at 295 electoral votes just with victories in Florida, Nevada, Colorado and New Mexico; and a path through the Rust Belt that would focus on Pennsylvania, Ohio, Iowa and put her at 293 electoral votes without North Carolina, Georgia, Florida or Nevada.

Still, Clinton advisers are worried about overconfidence. The goal of pushing on many paths at once is to force Trump, who has less in resources and organization, to compete in a lot of territory.

* A ‘MEH’ JOBS REPORT: The August jobs numbers are in: “Total nonfarm payroll employment increased by 151,000 in August, and the unemployment rate remained at 4.9 percent, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reported today.”

Economic writer Neil Irwin tweets that the real takeaway from today’s report is that it should persuade the Fed to hold off on raising interest rates.

* THE CANDIDATES HAVE STARK DIFFERENCES ON IMMIGRATION: Benjy Sarlin and Alex Seitz-Wald take a hard look at their underlying differences:

Trump called for a new “deportation task force” to root out criminals and for tripling the number of immigration agents tasked with removing immigration violators from the interior….Clinton, by contrast, has pledged to pursue legislation creating a path to citizenship for qualifying immigrants in her first 100 days in office. Failing that, she has pledged to “go even further” than President Obama in using executive action to shield undocumented immigrants from deportation.

The easiest way to understand the fundamental underlying difference here is that Clinton favors mass assimilation, and Trump favors mass removal, with no meaningful path to assimilation present anywhere in his vision.

* TRUMP’S FUZZY MATH ON THE UNDOCUMENTED: Trump likes to assert there are two million “criminal aliens” in the United States. But Michelle Lee takes a good look at the claim and finds that it’s based on a combination of questionable sourcing and distortions of available data. According to one think tank estimate, it may be less than half of that.

This claim is important to Trump, because it helps exaggerate the degree to which undocumented immigrants are a threat, and also because it reinforces his messaging trick about targeting criminals, not the “good ones,” for removal.

* A FEW FACTS ABOUT THE BORDER: NPR has a nice guide to the basics: The number of border agents has more than doubled since 2002. The border patrol budget has exploded to $3.8 billion, and Immigration and Customs Enforcement funding has escalated to $5.9 billion. The number of apprehensions at the border — a measure of how many attempt to cross — has plummeted steadily since 2000. Removals have increased under Obama.

But Trump tells his audiences regularly we have “open borders,” and nothing matters, so please disregard.

* A KEY DIVIDE BETWEEN THE TWO PARTIES: Paul Krugman looks at the profound long term ramifications of lead poisoning children, and adds:

Mrs. Clinton has pledged to “remove lead from everywhere” within five years…everything in her history, especially her decades-long focus on family policy, suggests that she would make a serious effort. On the other side, Mr. Trump — oh, never mind. He rants against government regulations of all kinds….the divide over lead should be seen…as an indicator of the broader stakes. If you believe that science should inform policy and that children should be protected from poison, well, that’s a partisan position.

It’s also worth adding that Clinton has talked about lead poisoning as a problem embodying systemic racism, which I’m not sure Trump has done or would ever do.

 * AND CAN REPUBLICANS ESCAPE TRUMP? NBC’s First Read crew notes that a new phase of down-ticket Republicans distancing themselves from Trump is set to begin right now, and comments:

After Labor Day, almost every single Democrat in a House and Senate race will be tying their GOP opponent to Trump. So up and down the ticket, hundreds of millions of dollars in Democratic messaging will be “Trump, Trump, Trump, Trump, Trump, Trump.”…November is going to go one of two ways. One, this kind of GOP separation from Trump is going to work like we saw in 1996. Or two, the bottom is going to fall out for the Republican Party.

Or somewhere between the two!