Donald Trump won the Republican presidential nomination by running to the right of many opponents on immigration, vowing to deport every last one of the estimated 11 million undocumented immigrants living in the United States. Now he is suddenly open to "softening" that position through some kind of "merit system" that would allow longtime, law-abiding residents to gain legal status.
Trump, in excerpt of townhall with Hannity, on what to do with undocumented immigrants. Whooo boy: pic.twitter.com/VT5mE1EXpZ
— Phil Mattingly (@Phil_Mattingly) August 24, 2016
As you might expect, the reaction of many conservatives is best summarized as: "Whaaat?!"
"I think this is a mistake," Ann Coulter, author of "In Trump We Trust," lamented Tuesday on MSNBC.
"Having illegal immigrants pay a fine and back taxes to stay in the country was the policy proposed in the Gang of Eight amnesty bill!" Chris Pandolfo type-shouted in the Conservative Review Wednesday.
Joe Scarborough said Thursday that Trump's deportation flip-flop puts him in line with what Jeb Bush proposed during the GOP primary.
Comparisons to the Gang of Eight and former Trump rivals who favored a path to legalization are everywhere.
Isn’t Trump’s new position the one Jeb Bush outlined?
— Charles C. W. Cooke (@charlescwcooke) August 24, 2016
Trump is on the verge of adopting Jeb Bush's immigration policy in toto. He even polled the town hall audience on whether he should do it.
— David Freddoso (@freddoso) August 25, 2016
Looking forward to some smart think pieces comparing the Gang of Eight amnesty to the Trump amnesty
— Allahpundit (@allahpundit) August 24, 2016
Trump just adopted Jeb Bush's Gang of Eight position https://t.co/JD9c3K1IV8
— Mark R. Levin (@marklevinshow) August 25, 2016
Well ... almost everywhere. The Drudge Report has given Trump a pass. And another prominent conservative news site has declined to call out Trump for backtracking.
Best I can tell, not a single mention on the Breitbart homepage of Trump floating no mass deportations: pic.twitter.com/YkSTPImGsl
— Sopan Deb (@SopanDeb) August 25, 2016
Still nothing on Breitbart’s page about Trump’s new softer stance on immigration! pic.twitter.com/ArQokwMhz6
— Oliver Darcy (@oliverdarcy) August 25, 2016
This is precisely the "weak" position Trump (and Breitbart) skewered Jeb for taking https://t.co/RWalT8hsaj
— Tim Alberta (@TimAlberta) August 24, 2016
Huh, nothing on @BreitbartNews about Trump's embrace of Jeb Bush and Marco Rubio's position on immigration. Strange.
— Jamie Weinstein (@Jamie_Weinstein) August 25, 2016
To be clear, Breitbart did publish recaps of Trump's two-night town hall event with Sean Hannity. But the stories were essentially just transcripts of exchanges between the Republican standard-bearer and the Fox News host. There was little context — no mention that Trump's latest deportation rhetoric echoes Bush or the Gang of Eight and certainly no criticism.
This really isn't strange. (Note to Trump: Weinstein's tweet is a good example of what sarcasm actually looks like.) Breitbart has boosted Trump unconditionally since the early days of the race, and Trump last week hired the site's executive chairman, Steve Bannon, as his campaign's chief executive.
As noted by Tim Alberta, the National Review's chief political correspondent, Breitbart has gone hard after other Republicans who said the same things Trump is saying now. But that seems not to matter. For Breitbart, Trump's anti-establishment populism overrides policy.
That is apparently not true for all Breitbart readers.
"He straight up lied to us," one commenter wrote Wednesday night. "I called it, but it still sucks regardless."
"Sorry Donald Trump, you lost my vote," added another.
Yet many Trump backers don't feel betrayed at all. The Washington Post's Ed O'Keefe and Jenna Johnson interviewed attendees at a Trump rally in Tampa on Wednesday night and found many who were not bothered by the candidate's deportation shift, so long as he keeps his promise to build a wall along the Southern border.
Rush Limbaugh tried to explain the loyalty of "Trumpists" to the "drive-by" media on his radio show earlier in the day:
They thought there was gonna be a mass protest against Trump. They thought that Trumpists nationwide were gonna rise up and abandon Trump and start getting mad and say, "See? We can't trust anybody." And it didn't happen. And it didn't happen because they don't understand the connection that Trump supporters have for him. And there are many elements to that connection.
And I'm gonna tell you what one of them is. And if there are any of you in the drive-bys listening now who really want to learn and really want to understand, I mean, really want to know, I'm going to give you a hint. I don't know what percentage of Trump supporters this applies to, but I know it's big. Are you ready? I'm gonna say this very slowly so it has maximum impact.
Trump supporters don't care what he does or what he says because there is no way they are going to do anything that helps elect Hillary Clinton. It's no more complicated than that.
For many Trump supporters, including Breitbart, principle appears to have little to do with it. They love his attitude, his swagger.