Will Trump's Rumored Pivot on Mass Deportation Work?

He is trying to win over moderate whites, not Hispanic voters.


Trump Hands
Philip N Cohen

Well, well! What a difference a few bad polls can make!

News reports surfaced over the weekend that thanks to his tanking poll numbers over the last few weeks, Donald Trump is considering a switcheroo on the issue that launched his candidacy and propelled him to victory in the Republican race: Illegal immigration. He had made mass deportation of 11 million undocumented aliens — with their American families — the central plank of his campaign along with building the Great Wall of Trump on the Southern border. But there are signs that he may be backing off on at least the mass deportation aspect of his plan.

BuzzFeed and Univision have reported that in a meeting with his newly announced team of Hispanic advisers, the Donald signaled a willingness to consider a way of dealing with illegal aliens short of deportation. Although he did not use the word "legalization" at the meeting, he hinted that he may in fact be open to something akin to it although not full-blown citizenship – in other words, the Marco Rubio 2.0 plan. Adding fuel to this speculation was Trump's new campaign manager and veteran Republican strategist Kellyanne Conway's weekend appearance on CNN's State of the Union in which she pointedly declined to debunk these stories. "To be determined," she deflected, adding: "What [Trump] supports is to make sure that we enforce the law, that we are respectful of those Americans who are looking for well-paying jobs, and that we are fair and humane for those who live among us in this country."

Fair and humane for those who live among us in this country! That he cares about fairness and humanity to anyone other than himself will no doubt come as news to The Donald himself.

He'll make what he's really thinking clear in a Thursday speech on immigration. And Trump is a thoroughly brazen and opportunistic candidate so I wouldn't put it past him to at least try and pull what would be the Mother of All Flip Flops.

But why is he considering it and will it work?

He's considering it because otherwise there is no hope. He is listening to the polls – the only thing he listens to besides his own "very good brain"– and they are telling him he has no path to victory with his current inflammatory course. The post-RNC bump that he received is over and his numbers are tanking. But even the highs he received then were not high enough to carry him to the White House.

So given the circumstances, the pivot on deportation is the first non-insane thing he is doing.

But it won't work.

Trump would win if he got 5 percent more than Mitt Romney's 59 percent of the white vote while hanging on to Romney's (pathetic) support among minorities. But what Trump has found out is that when he beats up on minorities, not only does he lose the minority vote big time (he is polling 0 percent among blacks in some key counties in swing states such as Pennsylvania and Ohio and 12-25 percent among Hispanics), but he actually also starts losing his edge among white voters. For every hardline white voter he has attracted, he has lost more moderate white voters.

He has been pulling the same number or slightly fewer white male voters than Romney, a New York Times analysis found. (Indeed, Hillary Clinton now has a one-point lead over Trump among men.) But he is losing white female voters by a vast margin, so appalled are they by his nasty loutishness.

So a pivot on deportation — along with his so-called appeal to black voters (telling them they have nothing to lose by going with him given how liberal politicians have failed them) — is meant not really for Hispanic or black voters but white voters, especially white women voters.

But this is too little too late. Women are not suckers and fools. Odds are that they will be massively turned off by the size of his pivot. Hillary Clinton will pound him day and night with ads juxtaposing his gazillion incendiary anti-Hispanic comments – including the ones about why a judge with Mexican heritage is not qualified to hear the case against Trump University – with his final switcheroo, showing that he's the real "liar."

Be that as it may, I wish he'd really stick to his anti-amnesty guns. Why? Not because I'm opposed to amnesty. In fact, I think that the nation's failure to legalize undocumented workers and consigning them to the shadows is a travesty. Rather, because his switcheroo will muddy the political waters making amnesty harder not easier after the elections.

He is — insha allah! — going to lose regardless whether he sticks to his deportation pledge or ditches it. If he sticks to it, he'll lose Hispanics big time and won't win. If he ditches it, he'll lose Hispanics and his core base big time and he won't win. But the latter will allow Rush Limbaugh and the rest of the restrictionist lobby to claim that Republicans can't win by appeasing Hispanics so they may as well not try.

This means that the restrictionist, Know Nothing-wing of the GOP will fight President Hillary Rodham Clinton (or President Gary Johnson, for those libertarians who like to dream) and sensible members of its own party tooth-and-nail when they really do try and craft a solution that is "fair and humane to those living among us" – just as it has always done.