Trump Talk to Focus on Borders, Not Deportation
Donald Trump will frame a hotly anticipated speech on immigration Wednesday in dramatic fashion, with a surprise meeting beforehand in Mexico with President Enrique Pena Nieto.
The GOP nominee tweeted late Tuesday that he accepted Pena Nieto's invitation to visit, an offer also extended to Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton. The two men will meet at the presidential palace in Mexico City, the New York Times reported.
Trump’s campaign hopes the impromptu trip will be seen as a “decisive and presidential move” in conjunction with the Republican candidate’s major immigration speech. The address, slated for Wednesday evening in Phoenix, is expected to lay out Trump’s “broader vision” on immigration policy — one that his aides insisted would not depart from what Trump has promoted throughout his campaign.
But, following a week in which Trump and his allies have seemed to waffle on his precise policy views, the speech will likely do less to clarify Trump’s position on whether and how to deport millions of undocumented immigrants than to redirect the issue toward less perilous political turf.
"Nothing has changed with Mr. Trump's stance. He's been remarkably consistent,” spokesman Jason Miller said Tuesday on “Fox and Friends.” “He is going to stop illegal immigration. He's the one candidate to do it.”
The Clinton campaign released a statement in response to Trump’s trip, saying, “What ultimately matters is what Donald Trump says to voters in Arizona, not Mexico, and whether he remains committed to the splitting up of families and deportation of millions."
Trump has oriented his presidential campaign for months around a hardline position on immigration, promising a wall along the border with Mexico, which Mexico would fund, and proposing a “deportation force” to address undocumented immigrants living in the United States.
But Trump has recently confronted the potential pitfalls of this stance in the context of the general election, for which he urgently needs to broaden his appeal. During the past week, Trump appeared uncertain of his immigration stance, publicly entertaining the option of a more relaxed policy.
At a Fox News town hall last week, Trump said he would be open to “softening” on immigration, suggesting a path to legalized status for undocumented immigrants already in the country but otherwise in good standing.
But Trump later walked back from that apparent shift, telling CNN a few days later that “There is no path to legalization unless people leave the country.”
“I’ve heard people say it’s a hardening, actually,” he added of his evolving views.
Alabama Sen. Jeff Sessions, a close adviser to Trump, acknowledged to the Washington Post that Trump was “wrestling with that issue.”
Trump now appears to have settled on a new manner of discussing his immigration views, if not a revised stance. He will focus on border security, as has been the tack of many Republicans, while leaving the question of illegal immigrants already in the country to sort out later.
“He wasn’t softening on anything. He didn’t change his stance on anything,” Donald Trump Jr. said Tuesday on CNN. But while Donald Trump still plans to deport illegal immigrants in the country, his son insisted, “You have to start with baby steps.”
As Trump shifts his focus to border security, he will not budge on his signature proposal to build a border wall at Mexico’s expense — which has literally become a rallying cry among his supporters at Trump’s events.
"We're going to build a wall, we're going to secure our borders, we're going to enforce our immigration laws, we're going to end sanctuary cities, we're going to pass E-Verify, we're going to uphold the Constitution," Miller said.
Trump’s new campaign manager, Kellyanne Conway, told Fox News Radio on Tuesday that securing the border with a wall would “absolutely” take precedence over mass deportations.
“That is the piece that people feel has not been done,” Conway said.
As Trump shifts his focus and refines his rhetoric, however, Clinton is aiming to hold him to his most hardline views, including Trump’s previous statements that every undocumented immigrant must face deportation.
“We need to believe him when he bullies and threatens to throw out every immigrant in the country,” Clinton told CNN last week.
Trump’s challenge will be to counter Clinton’s rhetoric with messaging to stress compassion, helping him appeal to undecided voters — while still speaking to his campaign’s broader “law and order” theme that energizes his core supporters. It is a tightrope act that he has begun to execute during the past week, but one his campaign hopes to conclude with his speech Wednesday.
“His position is going to be fair,” Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus said Sunday on “Meet The Press,” “but his position is going to be humane.”