Did Donald Trump just soften his Muslim ban proposal? (Christian Science Monitor)Trump's proposed ban on Muslims entering U.S. a moving target (The Hill)Has Donald Trump lifted his Muslim ban? (CBS)Donald Trump's shifting positions on Muslim ban (CNN)Trump adjusts Muslim ban proposal, golf stroke (Gawker)
That last one from Gawker might be the most apt — suggesting the real estate mogul changes positions as readily as a golfer might tweak his backswing after a slice.
Trump, who in December called for a "total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States," caused confusion with a series of comments to reporters following him around the Trump International Golf Links in Aberdeen, Scotland, on Saturday. At one point, he told CBS that immigration by Muslims from the United Kingdom "wouldn't bother" him.
Later, he seemed willing to open U.S. borders even further in remarks to Britain's Daily Mail:
"I don't want people coming in from the terror countries. You have terror countries!" he said — before altering his view significantly."I don't want them, unless they're very, very strongly vetted," he declared."In any case," Trump said, emphasizing the word "any," "we don't want people coming in, unless they're very strongly vetted."He finally settled on saying "I don't care where" immigrants come from."But they're going to be even more severely vetted if it's one of the terror countries."
What makes Trump's position on Muslim immigration so hard to pin down is timing. His original proposal, outlined in a written statement Dec. 7, included the caveat that a Muslim ban would last only "until our country's representatives can figure out what is going on." So he has always provided for the reopening of U.S. borders to foreign Muslims — albeit without any timetable. It is unclear whether Trump's most recent comments signal that he is completely abandoning the idea of a temporary, all-out ban or simply talking about the long-term standard he would enforce after the ban is eventually lifted — tighter scrutiny for Muslims from terrorist hotbeds but an ability to enter the United States if cleared.
So journalists are left unsure of how to characterize Trump's stance. Various reports noted that his campaign declined to make additional clarifications. A Trump spokeswoman provided a little more clarity to our own Jenna Johnson, but only a little:
Afterward, [spokeswoman Hope] Hicks said in an email that Trump's ban would now just apply to Muslims in terror states, but she would not confirm that the ban would not apply to non-Muslims from those countries or to Muslims living in peaceful countries.
The unanswered question of whether a ban would extend to non-Muslims from "terror countries" is hugely important. In the immediate aftermath of the Orlando shooting, Trump said he would "suspend immigration from areas of the world where there is a proven history of terrorism against the United States, Europe or our allies, until we fully understand how to end these threats." It sounded as Trump wanted to block anyone — not just Muslims — from certain parts of the world. Such a proposal would constitute an expansion of his original plan.
But if he wants to ban only Muslims and only those from select countries, then Trump is scaling back.
Confusion is, perhaps, exactly what Trump wants. He has not exactly reversed previous statements that thrilled his most ardent supporters during the GOP primary season, yet he has adopted a more welcoming tone that may appeal to middle-of-the-road voters in a general election. By being cagey with the press, Trump allows people with a range of views to believe he agrees with them.
MSNBC's Joe Scarborough, a harsh critic of Trump's Muslim ban, said on his show Monday that the recent shift could be effective.
"If he’s moving — and it looks like he’s moving past the Muslim ban, and now he’s moving past the mass-deportation element — you know, we’ll see what happens in its place," the "Morning Joe" host said. "But has this worked before in the history of politics? Yes, it has."
Of course, Trump has shown the inclination to make these kinds of shifts before, only to revert to his more controversial proposal. So who knows what lies ahead? Any declaration that Trump is moderating on a given issue could have a short shelf life thanks to a candidate who often seems to craft his policy positions on the fly. That could be why Trump's shift is being presented with question marks.
The challenge for the media will be to press Trump into spelling out his current Muslim immigration policy so that he can't get away with doublespeak and being all things to all people. It may be the case that he has actually changed his mind. If that's what happened, voters who fell in love with his "total and complete shutdown" ought to know.
We'll see if the media can get an answer.