Ann Coulter has just begun the promotional tour for her new book, In Trump We Trust, which contains this statement: “There’s nothing Trump can do that won’t be forgiven. Except change his immigration policies.”
The book came out last Tuesday. By Wednesday, Coulter did not seem like a woman who trusted Donald Trump.
Trump, it had become clear, is thinking about changing his immigration policies.
The Republican presidential nominee has modified, abandoned or reversed a dizzying array of campaign pledges, but this particular shift would be a doozy to surpass them all. Trump, who won the Republican primary in significant part because of a promise to deport all 11 million of America’s illegal immigrants, is now musing publicly about allowing most of those people to stay.
“Incorrect descriptions of this: pivot, softening, moderating. Correct descriptions of this: 180, total reversal, flip-flop,” Tim Alberta, chief political correspondent for the conservative National Review, wrote on Twitter.
Such a dramatic transformation would come with potential upside but also huge risk. In a last-ditch attempt to improve his dismal standing with Hispanics and moderate suburban whites, Trump may well lose part of the anti-immigration base that propelled him to the nomination.
“He hasn’t changed his position on immigration. He’s changed the words that he is saying,” spokeswoman Katrina Pierson said Thursday morning on CNN.
But his comments are remarkable either way. After spending months of the Republican primary lambasting opponents like Jeb Bush and Marco Rubio as “weak” advocates of “amnesty,” he has begun to signal this week that he might adopt the key components of their policies.
Trump made his most extensive remarks at a “town hall” gathering hosted by Fox News personality Sean Hannity — during which he polled the crowd on what he should do.
Illegal immigrants, Trump said, would not be granted a path to U.S. citizenship. But he suggested that the ones who had not committed additional crimes in the U.S. could stay in the country if they paid “back taxes” — as Bush, Ohio Gov. John Kasich, and other conservatives he mocked as pushovers have suggested.
He sounded little like the man who has called for a “deportation force” and praised the mass deportations of the 1950s “Operation Wetback.”
“Now, everybody agrees we get the bad ones out,” Trump told Hannity. “But when I go through and I meet thousands and thousands of people on this subject, and I’ve had very strong people come up to me, really great, great people come up to me, and they’ve said, ‘Mr. Trump, I love you, but to take a person who’s been here for 15 or 20 years and throw them and their family out, it’s so tough, Mr. Trump.’ I have it all the time. It’s a very, very hard thing.”
Trump repeatedly asked the audience in Austin, Tex. for its opinions. The impromptu focus-grouping would have been a startling display of uncertainty for any presidential candidate on any issue, but it was especially so in this case: immigration has been Trump’s top policy issue for more than a year, the election is in less than three months, and lives hang in the balance.
“So now we have the person, 20 years been an upstanding person, the family is great, everyone is great. Do we throw them out or do we work with them?” he asked, then called for a show of applause. “Number one, we’ll say throw out. Number two, we work with them. Ready?”
Soon before the town hall aired on Wednesday night, Coulter insisted, at her book-launch party, that nothing had changed. But by midnight, she was posting a series of angry messages on Twitter.
“Well, if it’s ‘hard,’ then nevermind,” she wrote sarcastically.
Trump has promised a formal announcement on immigration in the next two weeks. His verbal shift has already prompted an eruption of I-told-you-so from his vanquished opponents and their allies.
“It is unsurprising that Donald Trump is finally faced with reconciling his immigration policy with reality, something Gov. Bush predicted last year,” Bush spokeswoman Kristy Campbell told Politico.
“Everything Trump promises comes with an expiration date,” former Cruz spokeswoman Amanda Carpenter told Politico. “We knew it during the primary, and now it is apparent he has duped his most loyal supporters on the issue they care about most, immigration. Don’t say we didn’t warn them.”