Gerald Herbert/AP

Trump on Immigration: Schrodinger's Candidate

The Republican nominee is talking about softening his view on deportations and amnesty, but he makes it hard to tell whether he has actually done so.

Maybe Donald Trump has changed his position on immigration, and maybe he hasn’t. But it’s hard to get any sort of clarity from the candidate or his campaign on what policy he really supports.

As my colleague Priscilla Alvarez reported on Wednesday , the Republican nominee has made several comments in recent days that suggested he might be softening up his views, veering away from the hardline stance in which the only suitable solution to illegal immigration was a massive deportation of some 12 million people. Trump only deepened the mystery later that day. As Benjy Sarlin wrote of a town-hall meeting taped Tuesday in Austin, Texas, “He sounded unsure of his own immigration position on Tuesday, at one point turning to the audience to survey them on the issue.”

“There certainly could be a softening,” Trump said Tuesday . “What people don’t realize—we have very, very strong laws, but they don’t follow ’em.” In practice, Trump seemed to be floating the idea of amnesty for illegal immigrants in the country, even while insisting that he did not mean amnesty :

No citizenship. Let me go a step further—they’ll pay back-taxes, they have to pay taxes, there's no amnesty, as such, there's no amnesty, but we work with them. When I look at the rooms and I have this all over, now everybody agrees we get the bad ones out, but when I go through and I meet thousands and thousands of people on this subject, and I’ve had very strong people come up to me, really great, great people come up to me, and they've said, “Mr. Trump, I love you, but to take a person that has been here for 15 or 20 years and throw them and the family out, it's so tough, Mr. Trump.”

The idea that immigrants who have been in the United States for a long time and have family in the country ought to have some way to stay sounds a lot like Republican plans for immigration reform after the 2012 election, which called for giving some people “legal status” that fell short of citizenship. Proposing amnesty, while denying it's amnesty, is a time-honored bipartisan tradition. Trump won the GOP primary in large part by bashing his opponents as being too soft on immigration. (Oliver Darcy rounds up a few tweets where Trump assailed more or less the policy he seems to be discussing here.)

But maybe Trump isn’t sure. Several times during a portion of the town hall that aired Wednesday, Trump turned to the audience and asked for their position.

“Look, this is like a poll, there's thousands of people in this room. Who wants those people thrown out?" he asked one point, then asked, “Who does not want them thrown out?” Many members of the audience cheered the idea of “working with” those in the country illegally. If Trump was seeking validation for a pivot, he may have found it.

It’s effectively impossible to tell what Trump’s position is at the moment. And his aides are no more helpful. Take this mind-bending, post-modern explanation from Trump spokeswoman Katrina Pierson on television Thursday: “He hasn’t changed his position on immigration. He’s changed the words that he is saying.”

The mysterious distinction she draws aside, that isn’t true. For example, on Christmas Eve, Trump was tweeting about the need for massive deportation raids:

He specifically praised Dwight Eisenhower’s “Operation Wetback” in January. On Monday, he demurred, telling Bill O’Reilly “I don't agree with that. I'm not talking about detention centers.”

Trump’s equivocation has already earned him a reprimand from Ann Coulter, who—while promoting a book called In Trump We Trust took time to accuse Trump of backing amnesty . Establishment conservatives who accused Trump of being either disingenuous on immigration or simply not understanding the situation are feeling vindicated .

Whether Trump’s vacillation will hurt him electorally is unclear. He has muddied the waters on plenty of other issues, and it’s not as though hardline immigration supporters have anywhere else to go in this election; the most likely scenario is that they’d stay home. But as the cheering crowds in Austin showed, there are many Trump supporters who want a stronger posture on border security, but aren’t actually all that insistent on deportations.

Trump, for his part, insists he has not flip-flopped, and at this point, there’s no way to know. By couching his hesitations as questions, he leaves himself room to swing back toward the hardline, or else to continue executing a slow-speed evolution toward some sort of legal status. For the time being, Trump is Schrodinger’s candidate, both the hardest-line Republican nominee on immigration in history and simultaneously a compassionate advocate for amnesty.

X
This website uses cookies to enhance user experience and to analyze performance and traffic on our website. We also share information about your use of our site with our social media, advertising and analytics partners. Learn More / Do Not Sell My Personal Information
Accept Cookies
X
Cookie Preferences Cookie List

Do Not Sell My Personal Information

When you visit our website, we store cookies on your browser to collect information. The information collected might relate to you, your preferences or your device, and is mostly used to make the site work as you expect it to and to provide a more personalized web experience. However, you can choose not to allow certain types of cookies, which may impact your experience of the site and the services we are able to offer. Click on the different category headings to find out more and change our default settings according to your preference. You cannot opt-out of our First Party Strictly Necessary Cookies as they are deployed in order to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting the cookie banner and remembering your settings, to log into your account, to redirect you when you log out, etc.). For more information about the First and Third Party Cookies used please follow this link.

Allow All Cookies

Manage Consent Preferences

Strictly Necessary Cookies - Always Active

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Sale of Personal Data, Targeting & Social Media Cookies

Under the California Consumer Privacy Act, you have the right to opt-out of the sale of your personal information to third parties. These cookies collect information for analytics and to personalize your experience with targeted ads. You may exercise your right to opt out of the sale of personal information by using this toggle switch. If you opt out we will not be able to offer you personalised ads and will not hand over your personal information to any third parties. Additionally, you may contact our legal department for further clarification about your rights as a California consumer by using this Exercise My Rights link

If you have enabled privacy controls on your browser (such as a plugin), we have to take that as a valid request to opt-out. Therefore we would not be able to track your activity through the web. This may affect our ability to personalize ads according to your preferences.

Targeting cookies may be set through our site by our advertising partners. They may be used by those companies to build a profile of your interests and show you relevant adverts on other sites. They do not store directly personal information, but are based on uniquely identifying your browser and internet device. If you do not allow these cookies, you will experience less targeted advertising.

Social media cookies are set by a range of social media services that we have added to the site to enable you to share our content with your friends and networks. They are capable of tracking your browser across other sites and building up a profile of your interests. This may impact the content and messages you see on other websites you visit. If you do not allow these cookies you may not be able to use or see these sharing tools.

If you want to opt out of all of our lead reports and lists, please submit a privacy request at our Do Not Sell page.

Save Settings
Cookie Preferences Cookie List

Cookie List

A cookie is a small piece of data (text file) that a website – when visited by a user – asks your browser to store on your device in order to remember information about you, such as your language preference or login information. Those cookies are set by us and called first-party cookies. We also use third-party cookies – which are cookies from a domain different than the domain of the website you are visiting – for our advertising and marketing efforts. More specifically, we use cookies and other tracking technologies for the following purposes:

Strictly Necessary Cookies

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Functional Cookies

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Performance Cookies

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Sale of Personal Data

We also use cookies to personalize your experience on our websites, including by determining the most relevant content and advertisements to show you, and to monitor site traffic and performance, so that we may improve our websites and your experience. You may opt out of our use of such cookies (and the associated “sale” of your Personal Information) by using this toggle switch. You will still see some advertising, regardless of your selection. Because we do not track you across different devices, browsers and GEMG properties, your selection will take effect only on this browser, this device and this website.

Social Media Cookies

We also use cookies to personalize your experience on our websites, including by determining the most relevant content and advertisements to show you, and to monitor site traffic and performance, so that we may improve our websites and your experience. You may opt out of our use of such cookies (and the associated “sale” of your Personal Information) by using this toggle switch. You will still see some advertising, regardless of your selection. Because we do not track you across different devices, browsers and GEMG properties, your selection will take effect only on this browser, this device and this website.

Targeting Cookies

We also use cookies to personalize your experience on our websites, including by determining the most relevant content and advertisements to show you, and to monitor site traffic and performance, so that we may improve our websites and your experience. You may opt out of our use of such cookies (and the associated “sale” of your Personal Information) by using this toggle switch. You will still see some advertising, regardless of your selection. Because we do not track you across different devices, browsers and GEMG properties, your selection will take effect only on this browser, this device and this website.