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.”
Trump on Hannity Wednesday lamely repeated the lies of the anti-borders crowd: It’s not really amnesty! They won’t get citizenship! They’ll pay back taxes! (Schumer’s been running that con for 30 years.) Even his constant talk of a border wall seems to be his version of the Gang of Eight bill’s phony Corker-Hoeven amendment.
Trump didn’t need to “soften” his immigration position – he needed to define a coherent one and stick with it. His immigration platform has been on the campaign website for months and makes no mention of either mass deportation or amnesty. All he needed to have done was say that his freelance talk of deporting all the illegals was a gut reaction to the breakdown of our immigration enforcement system, but that further study and consultation showed that the more practical approach was to take the steps called for in his platform to shrink the illegal population over time. In response to the insistent “But what about the illegals?!” questions, he should simply have said that it is a secondary question that won’t even be discussed until the illegal flow is stopped and reversed.
That’s it. It’s not rocket science. He would have backed away from his Archie-Bunker-screaming-at-the-TV stuff about a “deportation force” rounding up people in the street, without proposing the Gang of One amnesty proposal.
That’s not what he did. And politically, this development must come as a disappointment to the GOP Establishment-in-Exile. They were hoping Trump’s loss would once and for all prove that opposing Comprehensive Immigration Reform® was a losing position, finally enabling them to force through the House of Representatives the amnesty and immigration increases their donors want and which they fancifully imagine would remove the only obstacle to Hispanic outreach.
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.