It appears as though a major new feature of Donald Trump's alleged general election pivot could be a striking about-face on the top issue that has propelled his campaign since day one: Immigration. Those who are inclined to reflexively oppose everything Trump does will call it a credibility-free pander from a man who's worried about losing. Those who may be open to his candidacy, or who are analyzing the race in a more detached way, might see this as a concession to the reality that softening Trump's image is essential to partially mitigating his toxic public image. And those whose impulse is to defend virtually everything the man does will point out that his original immigration white paper didn't technically call for mass deportations; the only use of the word came in relation to gang members. No, that part of the "plan" came later, off the cuff, in an interview with NBC's Chuck Todd. So this isn't really a flip-flop, they'll argue. He's just returned to his original stance -- plus, he's always invoked the need for compassion, and has been backing away from widespread deportations for awhile. Not to mention that exit polling consistently showed that a majority of Republican primary voters are open to a path to legalization, even in states where Trump dominated. But here's my question in light of the developments that Matt outlined over the weekend: Will any Trump fans who jumped on the train early thanks to the perception of an uber-hardcore immigration platform feel betrayed by any of this? Via Buzzfeed:
In a Saturday meeting with his newly announced Hispanic advisory council, Donald Trump suggested he is interested in figuring out a “humane and efficient” manner to deal with immigrants in the country illegally, according to three sources. Trump, however, stressed that any new announcements will still be in line with the border security-focused approach that has invited intense opposition from Latinos and immigrants since he launched his campaign. “He said people who are here is the toughest part of the immigration debate, that it must be something that respects border security but deals with this in a humane and efficient manner,” said Jacob Monty, a Houston-based immigration lawyer who sat in Trump Tower with other Latino supporters and Trump. “The idea is we’re not getting someone in front of the line, we’re doing it in a legal way, but he wants to hear ideas of how we deal with 11 million people that are here with no documents,” said Jose Fuentes, who was chair of Mitt Romney’s Hispanic advisory committee in 2012, and attended the meeting....Importantly, Trump did not explicitly use the word “legalization” at the meeting, but sources in the room said they feel it is the direction the campaign is going.
Hold the phone, though. Here's the Trump campaign's initial pushback:
In a statement, Steven Cheung with the Trump campaign dismissed the BuzzFeed News account of the meeting as “clickbait journalism” and disputed attendees’ claim that he opened the door to legalization behind closed doors. “Mr. Trump said nothing today that he hasn’t said many times before, including in his convention speech—enforce the laws, uphold the Constitution, be fair and humane while putting American workers first,” Cheung wrote. “Today’s conversation was productive and enlightening, and Mr. Trump looks forward to speaking with these leaders again soon and often.” But privately the campaign worried that “legalization,” much like “amnesty,” has become a derogatory word and said it doesn’t accurately represent Trump’s position. It stressed that Trump has always called for a humane approach, but Trump’s use of the word “humane” has previously been in the context of deporting immigrants, not soliciting ways for them to stay in the country.
So, false alarm, or not? Is Trump still merely talking about carrying out deportations humanely, or is he entertaining the idea of some form of legalization? His spokesman insists that sources mischaracterized the meeting. Trump didn't say anything new. Nothing to see here. Except...if that's the case, why did some of his top campaign deputies and prominent supporters make the Sunday show rounds sounding very much like there's a shift afoot? Here's newly-minted Trump campaign manager Kellyanne Conway giving a literal 'TBD' answer on whether the "deportation force" approach is getting the boot:
And here is immigration hawk Sen. Jeff Sessions -- upon whose anti-'amnesty' credentials Ted Cruz leaned heavily in his defense of immigration counter-charges from Marco Rubio during the primary -- sounding awfully hazy about Trump's commitment to a deport 'em all policy:
Lotta vagueness here from Sessions when asked if Trump is still committed to mass deportation https://t.co/xCBi6QfDg7— Allahpundit (@allahpundit) August 21, 2016
As others immediately noticed, Sessions' rhetoric isn't a far cry from the (post-gang of eight) Rubio approach: Focus on border enforcement first, then figure out what comes next as it pertains to what Trump himself has reportedly called "the toughest part of the immigration debate." As you chew over the possible implications of this change/non-change, let's circle back to part of Conway's answer on CNN: "As the weeks unfold, [Trump] will lay out the specifics" of his immigration plan, she said. He's already done that, though, so her formation suggests that something substantively different is in the formulation stage. If so, will we learn of the new policy in a teleprompter speech similar to the series Trump has embarked upon since his staff overhaul? I'll leave you with our Kelly File discussion on the heels of an eventful week about whether this is the Trump evolution that finally sticks, via Right Sightings: