Trump speaks at a campaign rally in Jackson, Miss.

Trump speaks at a campaign rally in Jackson, Miss. Gerald Herbert/AP

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Why Trump's Immigration Switch Won't Move the Needle

The GOP nominee's shift is unlikely to drive away core supporters or attract new ones.

The top­ic du jour is Don­ald Trump’s at­temp­ted walk-back of his po­s­i­tion on im­mig­ra­tion—roughly speak­ing, from an ab­so­lut­ist policy to one that’s merely tough. The op­er­at­ive ques­tion is wheth­er he can strike a bal­ance, en­ti­cing in­to his column the un­de­cided voters that he pre­vi­ously ali­en­ated with his “send ‘em all back” po­s­i­tion, while sim­ul­tan­eously hold­ing onto those who sup­por­ted his ori­gin­al, hard-line po­s­i­tion. This is es­sen­tial to his win­ning the elec­tion; he can­not win with just the sup­port he cur­rently has, as he is now a hand­ful of per­cent­age points and dozens of elect­or­al votes shy of win­ning this elec­tion.

My hunch is that there is both good news and bad news for Trump in this move. I don’t think he will ali­en­ate many of his core sup­port­ers with this at­temp­ted rhet­or­ic­al and sub­stant­ive walk-back, but it’s also likely that he won’t win over many new back­ers with this man­euver.

When Trump said in Iowa back in Janu­ary that, “I could stand in the middle of 5th Av­en­ue and shoot some­body and I wouldn’t lose voters,” no truer words were ever spoken. Trump’s voters would walk on hot coals for him. There is noth­ing he could say or do, or any­one else could say about him, that would ap­pre­ciably di­min­ish his cur­rent levels of sup­port. For ex­ample, the fact that a sig­ni­fic­ant share of con­ser­vat­ive, evan­gel­ic­al Chris­ti­ans can sup­port this vain and pro­fane, thrice-mar­ried, once pro-choice casino own­er who knows so little about the Bible as to refer to “Two Cor­inthi­ans” and whose wife at least once posed for a nude photo shoot is worthy of con­tem­pla­tion. If they haven’t aban­doned him yet, they won’t. His non­politi­cian cre­den­tials are so well es­tab­lished that even a clas­sic polit­ic­al hedge is un­likely to tar­nish his repu­ta­tion. Many will just say, “he’s do­ing what he has to do, he’s not really chan­ging his po­s­i­tion.” But at the same time, this sub­stant­ive ad­just­ment of his po­s­i­tion on im­mig­ra­tion isn’t likely to win over those whom he pre­vi­ously of­fen­ded, even those who are ex­ceed­ingly un­enthu­si­ast­ic about back­ing Hil­lary Clin­ton. They won’t be­lieve he’s really changed either.

Let’s face it: This will be a “wince” elec­tion with a large seg­ment of the elect­or­ate grim­acing as they cast their bal­lot, not happy about their choices at all. The drum­beat of neg­at­ive stor­ies about ad­di­tion­al Clin­ton emails and at least the ap­pear­ance of in­ap­pro­pri­ate deal­ings between the Clin­ton Found­a­tion and the State De­part­ment pre­vent many hard-core Trump crit­ics from feel­ing good about their choice, but is un­likely to turn many back the oth­er way. While the Clin­ton Found­a­tion un­doubtedly has done a lot of good things for needy people around the world, the op­tics of found­a­tion staff serving as a go-between for those seek­ing an audi­ence with or fa­vor from the sec­ret­ary of State—much as that’s the bread and but­ter for most Wash­ing­ton lob­by­ists—are ter­rible. Did the found­a­tion really need that much money or go that far to raise it, throw­ing ap­pear­ance to the wind? Clearly there is a long his­tory of tone deaf­ness to ap­pear­ances that has plagued the Clin­tons, and something doesn’t have to be crim­in­al to be in­ap­pro­pri­ate or at the very least to look bad.

All of this is why this race is likely to stay as close as it is. If Clin­ton goes on to win this elec­tion, as I think she will, one would hope that she would pop­u­late her ad­min­is­tra­tion with staff that would use bet­ter dis­cre­tion than those who have worked for Bill and Hil­lary Clin­ton in the past. Many have ob­served that Pres­id­ent Clin­ton could have been a much bet­ter or even great pres­id­ent had he not had cer­tain short­com­ings and al­lowed cer­tain prac­tices, e.g. us­ing the Lin­coln Bed­room as a bed-and-break­fast for gen­er­ous polit­ic­al donors.

This elec­tion should be over and it isn’t, not quite, and it’s not the Clin­ton cam­paign’s fault. It is the fault of those at the top, who dis­coun­ted that much of this would ever be pub­lic or held against them. I won­der if a les­son has been learned.