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Opinion Donald Trump’s immigration speech: The same old tripe

Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump speaks during a campaign rally in Jackson, Mississippi, Aug. 24, 2016. (Reuters/Carlo Allegri)

In Arizona on Wednesday night, Donald Trump proclaimed to his hardcore base what he did not have the nerve to say to Mexico’s president. He reverted to red meat and angry rhetoric on immigration. In that regard, he is a typical bully — brave only from a distance.

In Mexico earlier that afternoon Trump had said no discussion occurred about which country will pay for his wall. Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto said for his part “At the beginning of the conversation with Donald Trump, I made clear Mexico will not pay for the wall.” A Trump spokesman seemed to confirm Peña Nieto’s version when he put out a statement saying it should not be surprising the two disagreed. (Got that?)

Safely back in the U.S., it was Trump as usual. With intros from Rudy Giuliani and Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.) who both sported hats reading “Make Mexico Great Again Also” (I kid you not) — Trump began with praise for the Mexican president, who had effectively called him out as a liar. Insisting we have record levels of immigration (we don’t), he suggested the immigrant system serves the needs of politicians(?). It was downhill from there. Trump insisted we would build a “great” wall along the southern border and get Mexico to pay for it. Of course, he’d first have to ask for it, something he claimed he did not do today.

Donald Trump unveiled a 10-part immigration policy plan during a speech in Phoenix on Aug. 31 after meeting with Mexico's president earlier in the day. (Video: The Washington Post)

He continued on, arguing some immigrants don’t want to assimilate. (Hmm, which immigrants could he have in mind?) He claimed many people would still be alive if not for the “open borders” (which we do not have) that Clinton favors (which she does not) and reverted to the stories of Americans killed by illegal immigrants.

He did not get more accurate as the speech went on: We could have 30 million immigrants, he insisted, and repeated another unfounded claim that illegal immigrants cost us $113 billion a year.

On the subject of mass deportation he chose to hang tight.  He said, “We will be fair, just and compassionate to all” — but most compassionate to American citizens. Later in the speech he said President Eisenhower’s deportation plan did not go far enough. (He did not mention that the strategy was called “Operation Wetback”.) On “day one” he promised to deport 2 million “criminal aliens” (which would be hard since he says we don’t know if there are 3 or 30 million total people). How he did not say. In promising to increase the number of immigration officers by 5,000 (far less than the Gang of Eight bill)  he declared of Hillary Clinton, “Maybe they’ll be able to deport her.” We are back it seems to his banana republic convention style patter.

And yes, mass deportation is still on the table: “Anyone who has entered the U.S. illegally will be subject to deportation.” In case it wasn’t clear, he insisted, “We will break the cycle of amnesty and illegal immigration; there will be no amnesty.”

Finally, he reiterated his entirely unworkable “extreme vetting” plan to keep out Muslim extremists, to make sure immigrants “love our people” and to end immigration from Syria and Iraq. (He lied again in nsisting no paperwork on refugees is done; in fact refugees undergo an exhaustive 18 month-2 year vetting process.)

In short, there was no pivot, no attempt to broaden his base. He remains a prisoner of his own hateful rhetoric and his adoring fans. That it seems is more important even than winning. Despite polling showing the vast majority of Americans, including Republicans, disagree with his extreme stances, he cannot admit error and therefore cannot depart from positions that make him unacceptable to people outside his core base.

Clinton campaign manager John Podesta actually had it right earlier in the day when just after Trump’s Mexico visit, he put out a statement that said Trump “choked” on in his first overseas trip. Podesta concluded, “After today’s trip, we still know where Trump stands: an immigration plan that would deport 16 million people, end birthright citizenship, repeal DACA/DAPA and build a $25 billion wall and stick the American taxpayers with the bill.” He later added, “It turns out Trump didn’t just choke, he got beat in the room and lied about it.” That’s not far off, but with one caveat that  should always apply to Trump: Whatever he says today may be repudiated tomorrow.