Donald Trump’s much anticipated speech on immigration didn’t feature any new details or concrete plans. But it did provide a valuable lesson about the candidate and his campaign.
Donald Trump says a lot of things on political issues he doesn't really mean or care much about just to show that he can say them. But there are a few things the Republican presidential candidate says that he really means and feels deeply about. The most important one of those "Trumpian convictions" is that he alone decides how he wants to run his campaign – for better or worse.
Trump explicitly said so recently in a New York Times interview when he told the paper that while he tries to stay on message and stick to the script: "Ultimately, I said I want to do this my way. I had 80 days at the time, and I want to do it my way."
Trump definitely held true to that conviction in what he had promoted as a "big" speech on immigration in Arizona on Wednesday.
No immigration pivot
Trailing his Democratic rival Hillary Clinton consistently in the polls less than three months before the election, Trump could have tried what has been described as a "pivot" on immigration. Trump's recent remark about a "softening" on immigration led many to believe that he might change his public stance on the issue in an effort to reach out to more moderate voters and to the important Hispanic electorate.
An earnest appeal by Trump that he had reconsidered and changed his mind on the issue would surely have offended his core constituency and would definitely have been derided as flip-flopping by the Clinton campaign and the media.
But it still would have been the better option. It would have allowed Trump to - at least theoretically - make his case to more mainstream voters that are put off by his uncompromising stance on immigration. Such a move would also have been fairly risk-free, since Trump's most ardent supporters politically have simply nowhere else to go.
But that is the kind of conventional political thinking that Trump detests. That's why he chose the second option – a.k.a. "Trump's way" - on immigration. It basically entailed a doubling down on his uncompromising stance on the issue. That may help explain why Arizona Senator John McCain who is currently running for reelection was noticeably absent from Trump's speech in his home state. McCain simply decided to stay home.
He missed Trump reiterating his commitments to build a wall along the US-Mexican border and to deport illegal immigrants, even though he did not specify whether he plans to deport all estimated 11 million illegal immigrants by force.
Trump also vowed to detain all illegal immigrants arrested for any crime and to repeal President Barack Obama's executive order protecting younger illegal immigrants from deportation.
His hard-line speech also featured the usual factual errors, like his claim that illegal immigrants are treated better than US military veterans, and a dose of Trump's special sense of humor when he joked that his planned deportation task force might be able to deport Hillary Clinton.
From a policy angle Trump's fiery remarks on immigration in Arizona were unremarkable. From a campaign angle, however, Trump's speech was noteworthy because it offered a glimpse into Trumpian thinking.
At a potentially crucial moment in his campaign and presented with two alternatives, a course of moderation or his old hardline approach, Trump decided to do it his way - even if that may ultimately lead to his defeat. For the remainder of the campaign that is an important lesson to remember.
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