Trump’s immigration “policy”

Did you hear about how Trump is planning a speech to finally outline his actual immigration policy.  That’s right– “build that wall!” is not actually an immigration policy.  It’s a catchphrase.  And somehow, Mr. tough-on-immigration has skated by this far with little more than a catchphrase.  Excellent post from Peter Beinart:

What the commentary of the last few days has generally overlooked is that while immigration was key to Trump’s success in the Republican primary, Trump never actually offered an immigration policy. To the contrary, his success rested in large measure on his ability to avoid one. Trump’s strategy on immigration, as on other key issues, was to cut through the Gordian knot of public policy with aggressive, quick fix solutions. Terrorism? Ban Muslims. ISIS? Bomb the hell out of them and take their oil. Loss of manufacturing jobs? Slap massive tariffs on companies that outsource American jobs. [emphases mine]

On immigration, Trump’s quick fix was building a wall. And he hawked it endlessly, in part because it allowed him to sidestep the public-policy debate that had been tearing the GOP apart: what to do about the undocumented already in the U.S. Trump rarely mentioned deportation, perhaps because he sensed it would draw him into the public-policy quagmire he wished to avoid.

Beinart traces Trump’s answers in the debates and shows how he elides ever actually getting serious on immigration policy.  He continues:

It’s not that Trump never discussed deportation during the primaries. Over the course of hundreds of interviews, he was occasionally forced to admit that, yes, he would send all the undocumented home. But he discussed the topic as little as possible, for the same reason he avoided discussions of how to end the civil war in Syria and how to design a conservative replacement for Obamacare: He couldn’t condense his answer into an appealing bumper sticker…

Why is Trump now ensnared in the very net he avoided for so long? Because Kellyanne Conway, who specializes in making conservative politicians appealing to moderate female voters, decided that in order to soften Trump’s image, she needed to soften his immigration policy. What she appears not to have realized is that softening Trump’s immigration policy requires actually formulating one, something The Donald had wisely avoided for more than a year…

In the primaries, Trump often got away with answering immigration questions with paeans to his beautiful wall, and then letting his opponents delve into the messy details of actual policy. This fall, standing alongside only Hillary Clinton, he’ll find such evasions harder. Seven minutes of filibustering may not be enough.

Have I mentioned how much I am looking forward to the debates?  Even with the media doing all it can to help by setting an absurdly low bar there’s really been no evidence that Trump can clear any bar whatsoever when it comes to a serious policy discussion.

About Steve Greene
Professor of Political Science at NC State

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