There was always only one sensible position on immigration: ensuring that legal immigration was meritocratic, diverse, and measured to facilitate rapid assimilation and integration — while ending illegal immigration entirely through a mixture of new border fencing/stepped-up patrolling, increased visa and refugee scrutiny, employer fines, and rapid deportation of those who committed serious misdemeanors and felonies, had no work history, were always on government support, or who had arrived within the last one to two years on the scent of amnesty.
No one knows how many of the supposed 11 million (an ossified figure from the 1990s) here illegally, in contrast, have never been convicted of a crime, are employed and not on state support, and have proven residence, say, beyond four to five years. Perhaps 70 percent of the proverbial 11 million might fit that qualifying category?
Practically, then, the pathway — after certifying a closed border and a reenergized ICE — was to deport the former categories (perhaps 2 to 4 million?) gradually and as individuals as they come in contact with local, state, and federal law-enforcement and bureaucratic agencies, while allowing the law-abiding and those working and of long residence (7 to 9 million?) a chance to pay a fine and obtain a green card (what they choose to do after that point would be their own individual business, whether for the vast majority renewable and continually vetted residence status or, for a few, a long path of fines and English acquisition to make good on breaking the law on the way to citizenship).
Outrage aside, Trump’s original promise to “make Mexico pay for the wall” was neither crude nor surreal, given it is possible to place a federal tax (5–10 percent) on all remittances sent overseas by those who could not prove legal residence ($3–5 billion per annum in revenue?), combined with some sort of minimal effort to avoid bundling and the avoidance of the tax by using third parties.
Certainly, slapping a tax on remittances was logical and measured compared to the Mexican government’s policy of actively undermining U.S. law to the extent of the caricature of printing comic-book manuals of how to make it across the border illegally. The idea of cutting off federal funds to neo-Confederate sanctuary cities was as wise or not as would be cutting the funds of municipalities that declared the federal handgun registration or the federal Endangered Species Act null and void in their jurisdictions.
Trump’s tremendous error was the same as the 2012 Republican primary bluster (ironic since Trump post facto castigated a defeated Mitt Romney on just this point), namely the impracticable effort to send 11 million en masse back to Mexico, regardless of their individual statuses. By overreaching in bombastic fashion in the primary, Trump won the issue but painted himself into a corner that his new team is now trying to airlift him out of — with the hope that the hypocrisy and deceit will die down before the election and Trump can win over 4–5 percent more of the Latino vote (and some turned-off independents and Republicans), which at a 26-30 percent rate in some states might make a difference — if he doesn’t lose that commensurate edge by alienating some of his base who would stay home in disgust that he proved to be just another politician.
So the problem is not just Trump’s hypocrisy but that he used his 1.0 position to beat down primary rivals (Ted Cruz in particular) in brutal fashion who held positions similar to his new 2.0 incarnation.
Of course, Trump is not running in a vacuum. Hillary is mortgaged to La Raza extremists, and opposes all deportation under any circumstances. She would prefer permanent non-enforcement/sanctuary cities/executive-order amnesties in order to ensure a blue-ing of southwestern swing states, a permanent progressive constituency supporting high taxes/big government/redistributionist entitlements, and hopes that the Latino community never models itself after other immigrant groups, such as Italian Americans, whose political fides have evolved into mostly a matter of individual choice not groupthink — and who now believe ethnicity is incidental not essential to a sense of self. The melting pot, despite government efforts to kill it, still works if mass and illegal immigrations are stopped completely.
So politically we are left with the following: Is Trump a hypocrite who will curtail illegal immigration better than a consistently open-borders Clinton? Is Trump’s flexibility a precursor of more flips to come? And while the media will damn him more as a hypocrite than appreciate that he is a pragmatist for gravitating to its position, will he lose more of his base than he wins from moderates?
In the end, I doubt his flipping will either help or hurt much. Those who will vote for him over Clinton, will still believe that he offers a 51–49 percent edge and in life that tiny margin is unfortunately good enough; Never Trumpers will insist that he destroyed their own candidates only to adopt their positions, another argument why he is ethically and temperamentally unfit. And the Left doesn’t believe he was ever going to get much more of the so-called Latino vote than did post-George W. Bush Republican candidates and finds his flipping amusing.
They will applaud him for a day or two of foolishly focusing the media away from Hillary’s high crimes and misdemeanors — which is probably the real lesson of the gaffe: another blown 48 hours.