As John suggests, the immigration issue seems to be tying Donald Trump in knots right now. There’s poetic justice in this. Trump rode to front of the Republican pack in significant part because of the irresponsible and callous stance he took on this subject, bashing his leading opponents for taking positions Trump seemingly now would like to take.
But Trump should be able to execute a fairly soft landing on illegal immigration. Here’s how.
First, walk away from mass deportation once and for all. Deporting 11 million people, if it could be done, would be inhumane. Deporting them and bringing most of the back, as Trump promised to do, would be inhumane and senseless.
Sure, walking away means flipping on a core Trump position. But flipping is commendable when it means abandoning a terrible stance.
Trump can say that he’s showing flexibility based on what he has learned from talking to immigrants on the campaign trail. There’s nothing wrong with this unless it becomes a pattern.
Trump seems to be in the process of executing this flip. As far as I can tell, his core supporters don’t mind much.
Second, make clear that there will be no legalization (i.e., amnesty) in a first Trump administration. Say, instead, that the issue of what changes, if any, to make in the status of those here illegally will be taken up in a second Trump administration if Congress cooperates with him on enforcement and if these efforts succeed in stopping the flow of illegal immigrants. Building “the wall” will be a key element of the enforcement effort Congress must cooperate with.
At that point, legalization will be considered. However, there will be no path to citizenship.
This, of course, is the standard “enforcement first” line. Most Republicans agree with it, I believe. So do many moderates/independents.
The position is hard line enough that Trump will continue to differentiate himself sharply from Hillary Clinton, who wants legalization and a path to citizenship and wants it promptly. It’s also hard line enough to keep Trump’s core supporters satisfied (though in some cases not happy).
The position won’t satisfy the pro-amnesty crowd or make him a big hit with Hispanics. But it will partially remove the stain of his deportation stance — which Hispanics and non-Hispanics alike deplore, as they should — and hold out enough hope for eventual legalization to win over some moderate and conservative Hispanics.
This is a soft landing. Immigration can continue to be a rallying point for the Trump campaign. And the only high profile flipping Trump will have done is the abandonment of the ludicrous and inhumane deportation promise.
Right now, though, Trump seems to be flirting with a softer position on amnesty. This will make for a very hard landing, I sense. Indeed, it will remove the basis for thinking that Trump stands for anything. Many, me included, already doubt that he does.
Without some level of confidence that Trump means what he says, not down to the last specific but in general, Trump will be headed for certain defeat.