Donald Trump confused his supporters and detractors alike this week when, after months of promising to build a “deportation force” to go after every undocumented immigrant in the country, his new campaign manager said that Trump’s stance on mass deportations is “to be determined” and the candidate himself said “there certainly could be a softening” of his immigration position. (Trump, however, continued to insist that he is “not flip-flopping” on the issue.)
This left Trump’s supporters in the anti-immigrant movement, many who have hailed his candidacy as something just short of the Second Coming, confused about how to respond. The reactions have ranged from denial that Trump will actually change his position—a fair assumption given Trump’s track record of saying whatever he thinks his current audience wants to hear—to dire warnings that he got behind “amnesty” to resigned acceptance that whatever Trump does, at least he’ll take a harder line on immigration than Hillary Clinton.
Some activists, like Trump himself, are claiming that he has not changed his position at all. Trump spokeswoman Katrina Pierson made this argument on CNN today, explaining that the candidate “hasn’t changed his position. He has changed the words he is saying.”
Dan Stein, the head of the anti-immigrant Federation for American Immigration Reform, took a similar tack, telling Newsmax that while Trump probably wouldn’t lose much support from his base if he weakened his hardline immigration stance, given the alternative candidates, he was “very confidant that [Trump’s] positions, in the end, are going to remain substantially intact.”
The Center for Immigration Studies’ Mark Krikorian, meanwhile, claimed that Trump never actually meant what he originally said about creating a deportation force, claiming that the “deportation force” he promised was just “symbolic talk” for stricter immigration enforcement.
"The idea we were ever going to deport all 12 million in two years with deportation squads—or whatever [Trump] popped off about—was never a policy,” Krikorian told The Washington Times. “It was an Uncle George spouting off about the latest thing. I think a lot of people took that as symbolic talk, a way of showing he's serious on immigration and, ‘I'm not Jeb Bush.’’
Anti-immigrant flamethrower Ann Coulter similarly tried to downplay Trump’s attempted repositioning on the issue, telling the Washington Examiner in an interview that took place after Trump’s campaign manager’s comments but before the candidate’s own, that the campaign’s change in rhetoric isn’t “a change in policy.” But she also, stunningly, conceded that it may be “in our interest to let some [undocumented immigrants] stay.”
"It mostly worries me rhetorically ... I mean, what to do with the illegals already here was never really a big part of it," she said. "We're getting a wall. We're definitely getting a wall. That's the one thing we know about a Trump presidency."
She said Trump still offers more than any of the other Republicans had.
"I don't think it is a change in policy," she said of Trump. "The policy is anyone who's here illegally is here illegally, does not have the right to be here. We'll decide whether it's in our interest to let them stay or not. Perhaps it is in our interest to let some of them stay."
Coulter hit a similar note in an interview with The Hill after Trump made his “softening” comment and vaguely outlined a policy in which some undocumented immigrants would have a way forward to legal status. “It's just rhetoric but it's still annoying,” she said. "I think he panicked and he had to say [it] ... I don't think he is softening. I mean the big thing is the wall.”
Coulter, however, who just happened to be launching her new book “In Trump We Trust” last night with a party hosted by Breitbart News, quickly changed her tune, taking to Twitter to accuse Trump of promoting “amnesty”:
William Gheen of Americans for Legal Immigration PAC similarly cautioned Trump against supporting “amnesty,” saying, “If Donald Trump significantly diverges from his promise to deport all illegals, he will end his own campaign or his own presidency. His campaign or his presidency will be wounded to the point of self-destruction.”
Krikorian had a similar warning in The National Review today, saying that if Trump loses to Hillary Clinton now, it will be because of his “softening” immigration views.
Krikorian, however, told The Washington Times yesterday that he trusted Trump’s advisers (who include Krikorian) to steer the candidate back to a hardline position. “I don’t trust Trump, but I trust the people working for him. And I trust Hillary to do the wrong thing without exception,” he said. “He could sell us out on everything and he’d still be better than Hillary.”