There was a lot of chatter yesterday that, in an off-the-record meeting with the New York Times editorial board, Donald Trump indicated that he was bluffing about his super-hardline immigration positions. NYT columnist Gail Collins hinted that all of his talk about mass deportations was really just an “opening bid”:
The most optimistic analysis of Trump as a presidential candidate is that he just doesn’t believe in positions, except the ones you adopt for strategic purposes when you’re making a deal. So you obviously can’t explain how you’re going to deport 11 million undocumented immigrants, because it’s going to be the first bid in some future monster negotiation session.
Ben Smith from Buzzfeed adds:
Sources familiar with the recording and transcript — which have reached near-mythical status at the Times — tell me that the second sentence is a bit more than speculation. It reflects, instead, something Trump said about the flexibility of his hardline anti-immigration stance.
And on it goes. The Times won’t release the transcript of the meeting. The Trump people are mad. Etc.
A few thoughts, in no particular order:
The Times is absolutely right not to release the transcript.
People griping that a newspaper shouldn’t have off-the-record meetings with candidates are wrong. Such meetings are very useful both for candidates and journalists. It helps the news organization get a better feel for the human beneath the candidate’s façade and it lets politicians make their best case for a certain policy or approach without worrying about taking a public hit.
I should say that National Review (and pretty much every publication, pundit, and news network I know of) does this kind of thing routinely, either formally or informally. I should also say I can’t think of a time when a Republican politician told us anything like what Donald Trump allegedly said to the Times. In other words, I’ve never heard a confession from a GOP pol (and I’ve sat in with a great many over last 15 years), who said their stated position was just a bogus posture. Usually, the juicy stuff is about campaign timing, or personal feelings towards other politicians, etc. But the juicy stuff is usually quite rare. And very, very, often the stuff they say behind closed doors is easily put on the record if you ask.
In fairness to Trump, many politicians have, “off the record,” shared their bogus postures with me/us. They just have the good sense not to admit, “Oh yeah, we’re lying through our teeth about our commitment to this or that just to get a better deal.”
Also in fairness to Trump, they have every reason to be pissed at the Times. Off the record means off the record. It doesn’t mean whisper campaigns to Buzzfeed or winks by our columnists.
In fairness to Buzzfeed, good for them! This idea, often hinted or silently genuflected to, that it’s perfectly fine for the press to reveal classified intelligence and other vital secrets of the government (and the private sector) but it is somehow profane to try to sleuth out what happens in editorial-board meetings is ridiculous. This is not an invasion of privacy. It’s good and fun reporting about the biggest story in politics.
Last, whether or not Donald Trump admitted it to the editorial board of the New York Times, I would not be shocked in the slightest to learn he’s faking it. He’s faking everything else in this race. That doesn’t mean he wouldn’t kick in doors and send 11 million people packing, either. I just don’t think he’s put any serious thought into the issue either way because he’s not a serious person. All of his life he’s said and promised whatever he has to to get what he wants. Once he gets what he wants, he moves on to the next shiny thing and leaves the suckers wondering “What happened?”