Today in Arizona, Donald Trump will deliver a speech laying out further details about his immigration policy. Thus far defined primarily by his promise to “build a wall” along the southern border, and to create a “deportation force” to get illegal immigrants out of the country, Trump has been praised by immigration hard-liners such as pundit Ann Coulter and Rep. Steve King of Iowa.

But last week, Trump said he intended to “soften” his stance on the issue, and to try to be kind to those who may be here illegally but have committed no other crime, to find a way to allow them to stay.

The hashtag #AmnestyDon was born, as was a new round of speculation about whether Trump’s thirtieth “pivot” would be the winner, creating just the right conditions to win over skeptical Republican moderates while holding on to his primary supporters. After all, with Trump being viewed unfavorably by huge numbers of Hispanics, including less than three out of ten Hispanics born in the U.S., he’s got a long way to go in order to be winning in swing states with increasingly diverse populations, such as Colorado and Florida.

Trump advocates have come out to suggest that Trump’s new position isn’t a new position at all, but rather a clarifying of his past positions. It is certainly at least a little ironic that Trump’s desire to focus mostly on deporting illegal immigrants who have committed other violent crimes is quite similar to President Obama‘s position. (The Supreme Court, in a split decision this summer, upheld a lower court ruling that Obama’s actions on this front had overstepped his executive authority.)

Furthermore, there are strong hints of Mitt Romney’s troubled “self-deportation” policy woven into Trump’s new position. On a Fox News segment yesterday, Sen. Scott Brown suggested that Trump would want to create the incentive for those here illegally to choose to leave the country on their own. What irony that Donald Trump’s “new” immigration position adds bluster about a border wall to what might otherwise be described as an “Obama-Romney immigration plan.”

But even if Trump’s “softening” can’t be spun, would a policy that somehow includes a pathway to legal status doom Trump with his own party?

Consider this: in the 2016 primaries, in states such as Florida and South Carolina, a majority of Republican primary voters told exit pollsters that they preferred offering a path to legal status to those here illegally, rather than deporting them all. Despite the coverage of the 2016 primary as if it was proof that the GOP is a party full of immigration hardliners who want mass deportation, a majority prefer a pathway to some kind of residency or perhaps citizenship.

Notably, Donald Trump won even among Republican primary voters who support a path to legal status. In Florida, Trump even edged out hometown hero Marco Rubio by a single percentage point among those who preferred a path to legal status. In places such as New Hampshire and South Carolina, majorities consistently preferred a path to legal status.

Also of note is the fact that immigration was the top priority of only a small handful of Republican primary voters, distantly trailing issues such as government spending and terrorism.


Kristen Soltis Anderson for the Washington Examiner, 8/31/16


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