For years, the Nativist Right has been urging the GOP to ratchet up its hardline stance on immigration, arguing that tough anti-immigrant rhetoric and proposals will energize white voters and lead to Republican victories at the ballot box.
Nativists pointed to Donald Trump’s victory in the GOP primaries as proof that such a political strategy is viable.
That theory was always flawed: after all, Republican primaries tend to be a largely white affair. Now that the entire general electorate is at stake, polls have shown Trump trailing Hillary Clinton in nearly every swing state. Perhaps realizing this, the GOP presidential nominee has yet again attempted to reposition himself on the issue of immigration, all while denying that he is changing his position at all.
After campaigning for more than a year on a deport-them-all platform, Trump said on Tuesday that he was open to “softening” his stance by only seeking to deport the “bad ones” while providing a road to legal status for most undocumented immigrants—something much closer to President Obama’s and Hillary Clinton’s stances on the issue.
Mark Krikorian of the Center for Immigration Studies is one of the many conservative commentators who have been disappointed by Trump’s confusing, hazy attempt to reposition himself on immigration.
If Clinton defeats Trump, Krikorian says in a National Review column today, it will be because the Republican nominee retreated from his prior immigration views—despite the fact that Trump would lose badly if the election was held today:
I’ve been joking to reporters over the past couple of days that Trump’s supporters wouldn’t be likely to abandon him unless he embraced Chuck Schumer’s immigration policy.
Ann Coulter makes the same point in her new book, entitled (with unintended irony) In Trump We Trust: “[T]here’s nothing Trump can do that won’t be forgiven. Except change his immigration policies.”
But Trump probably just threw away his only remaining chance to win in November with Wednesday’s Jeb Bush impersonation. He won the primaries with immigration control as his marquee issue; had he stuck to his guns, and still lost, the GOP Brain Trust, not to mention the Democrats, would more plausibly have been able to argue that opposition to their agenda was the reason. It still would have been a silly claim, since had he not grabbed hold of the immigration issue, the very idea of President Trump would have remained a Simpsons joke – if he’d remained consistent and still lost, it would have been despite his immigration position, not because of it.
But now that he’s channeling Little Marco and Low-Energy Jeb on immigration, that story line has evaporated. Many of the voters who stuck with him through his various antics will start drifting away, so that in any state where the results are close in November could plausibly have been won if Trump hadn’t pulled a Schumer.
It’s liberating, in a sense. While Trump was still clearly seen as the voice of immigration skepticism, I was worried that his oafish shenanigans would taint the immigration issue, especially if he was defeated by Hillary. But now that he’s no longer that voice in any meaningful sense, I can watch the circus undisturbed. His defeat will be on his head alone.