As Donald Trump delivered his noteworthy immigration speech in Arizona on Wednesday, it became increasingly clear that the success or otherwise of his signature campaign issue rests on his ability to apply a central tenet of his book “The Art of the Deal”: Maximize your options.
Indeed, amid all the recent talk of an immigration pivot, Trump has indicated that he intends to keep all options on the table even as he indicated he might be prepared to take some off — all while doubling down on his hardline immigration policy. In other words, Trump has been going with his gut.
But while such instincts have served him well in the business world, they could prove to be risky in politics.
There’s no doubt that Trump remains committed to building a wall, having Mexico pay for it, and deporting the “most dangerous criminal illegal aliens” on day one.
For a start, in his speech Wednesday, Trump stood firm on his commitment to build an “impenetrable physical wall” along the southern border, and stated with confidence, once again, that Mexico will pay for 100% of it.
“They don’t know it yet, but they’re going to pay for the wall,” Trump said.
Of course, the question of who will foot the bill comes on the heels of Trump’s presidential-style meeting with Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto, following which Peña Nieto made it clear his country would not be paying for the wall. Still, while the media may have enjoyed the ensuing back and forth over whether there was actually a discussion about who would pay for a wall that even by Trump’s own estimate would cost about $10 billion, voters were not concerned or interested.
Trump also largely held his ground on his position of deporting undocumented immigrants who are seeking legal status, saying, “They will have one route and only one route: to return home and apply for re-entry.”
Trump had originally announced his intention to deport all of the estimated 11 million immigrants who are in the United States illegally, but in Wednesday’s speech seemed to scale back on that goal with an emphasis on zero tolerance for criminal illegals, especially the estimated 2 million he says are here now. They will “begin moving them out day one,” he said.
The problem is that there were few details about what will be done with the remaining undocumented immigrants. And, despite his insistence that everyone will be treated in a humane fashion, the lack of specificity in Trump’s plans only fuels concerns, something he will need to address if he is to win over voters still undecided.
Trump’s Republican challengers routinely called him out on the lack of details during debates and on the campaign trail, warning voters that Trump could not follow through on his promises. Clearly, such criticism did not prove effective with primary voters — Trump won them over by continuing to tout his plan while taunting his rivals. The question now is whether Trump will be able to persuade voters in the general election that he can work with Congress to follow through on his immigration pledges.
Trump deserves credit for standing firm on his word to primary voters. But the reality at this stage of the game is that this campaign needs to be a matter of addition, not subtraction. Trump’s base of support is solid, but he needs to add Hispanics, African Americans, and white, college-educated voters. His hard line on immigration makes that increasingly difficult. With Labor Day right around the corner, it’s past time to shift to a general election mode.
Did Trump’s immigration speech adequately lay the groundwork for him to build on a platform that electrifies his base?
As the Rolling Stones once sang, “You can’t always get what you want, but if you try sometimes, well, you just might find, you get what you need.” Donald Trump has a firm immigration policy. But he also needs a plan that will appeal to the broader electorate. The Republican nominee may have gotten what he wanted. But did he get what he needs?