Donald Trump has a problem. For most of the Republican primary, Trump talked a tough game on immigration, appealing to the part of the Republican base that wants immigrants kicked out. But now he's in the general election, and that is a wildly unpopular position. An August 2015 survey on immigration by the Pew Research Center found that 72 percent of Americans want there to be some way for undocumented immigrants to stay in the United States, while just 17 percent think they should be rounded up and deported.
Assuming that Trump's goal is to convince more people to vote for him (which is something I occasionally doubt), he would presumably have two ways of dealing with this problem:
- Soften his approach to illegal immigration
- Try to downplay his position, hoping that people who don't consider immigration their most important issue don't focus on it.
But this is Trump, who has so disrupted the rules of political campaigns that he can find a whole third option, completely divorced from any logical idea about how to convince people to vote for him:
- Spend two weeks running around spouting contradictory nonsense about immigration until it becomes the focus of all media coverage, go meet with the president of Mexico (who compared Trump to Hitler and Mussolini), appear to lie about whether Mexico would pay for the wall, and then double down on the incredibly unpopular position in a long speech that highlighted the most demagogic aspects of Trump's candidacy.
Trump didn't have to do this. The press spent a lot of the last week focused on conflicts of interest at the Clinton Foundation and allegations of "pay for play" practices. The Trump campaign would have presumably preferred that to be the main story. But nope, it decided to just really make sure that everyone was watching before shouting out a policy most of Americans hate.
I believe Trump is worse off than he was before. Not only has he made it clear that he supports an unpopular policy, but he has also spent two weeks looking completely confused about his unpopular policy. And in loudly proclaiming his opposition to not just illegal immigration but legal immigrants, he's engendered even more racist support from white supremacists.
Trump has claimed that Hispanic Americans will support him (and even has a taco bowl tweet to prove it!), but in so publicly shouting out his hard-line immigration plan, he has lost support from some of the few Hispanic activists working with him. Jacob Montilijo Monty, a member of Trump’s National Hispanic Advisory Council, resigned after Wednesday's speech, denouncing Trump on Facebook:
I gave Donald TRUMP a Plan that would improve border security, remove hardened criminal aliens and most importantly give work authority to the millions of honest, hardworking immigrants in the US. He rejected that tonight and so I must reject him.
Trump's immigration plan was never going to be a winner, but now that he's underlined, bolded, and highlighted it, it's a loser, and in a very public way.
Image: Bustle/Dawn Foster