Trump Dials Down Immigration ‘Softening’

Hints of shift from GOP nominee roiled supporters without winning over Bush, Kasich types

by Brendan Kirby | Updated 26 Aug 2016 at 1:50 PM

Donald Trump caused trepidation among loyal supporters this week when he hinted his position on immigration could be shifting. Fortunately for Trump, some quick clarifications helped the worry predominantly stay just that — but supporters warn Trump could alienate them if he does drifts toward a Bush-type position on the issue.

William Gheen, president of Americans for Legal Immigration Political Action Committee, said Trump risks losing his group’s endorsement if he deviated too far from his stringent law and order stance on illegal immigration.

“The liberals and the Left are never going to like Trump.”

“What Donald Trump is saying and doing is blowing up his own base,” he said. “The liberals and the Left are never going to like Trump.”

Abandoning his immigration position, a central tenet of his campaign, would either ruin Trump’s White House hopes or wreck his presidency if he is elected, Gheen said. He said the New York billionaire succeeded by rejecting the accommodation of candidates like Bush, Gov. John Kasich, and Sen. Marco Rubio. Gheen warned Trump against surrounding himself with “pro-amnesty” advisers.

The firestorm comes in response to comments Trump made this week during a two-part town hall with Fox News host Sean Hannity in which the GOP nominee said there could be a “softening” of his immigration views. Those comments came after the Trump campaign abruptly canceled a major immigration speech that had been scheduled in Denver.

Trump reiterated his support for building a wall along the U.S.-Mexican border and vowed to let border agents and immigration officers do their jobs enforcing the law. He also restated his opposition to “sanctuary” jurisdictions that do not cooperate with federal immigration officials. He said there would be no amnesty but added that he would prioritize deporting criminals. He suggested, though, that there might be some wiggle room for longtime residents who have been productive members of society.

Anyone who avoided deportation would have to pay back taxes and could not become citizens.

To Gheen, that sounds an awful lot like the proposal of the so-called Gang of Eight that pushed an immigration reform effort in 2013. He said prioritizing criminals for deportation mimics President Obama’s rhetoric, and added that pledges to prevent illegal immigrants from becoming citizens are “well-known Republican tricks” that he insisted would not hold up to an activist judge — who would likely discover a right to citizenship for former illegal immigrants.

Trump seemed to get the message his supporters wouldn’t tolerate giving ground on the issue. The GOP nominee reaffirmed his opposition to amnesty for the estimated 11 million illegal immigrants residing in the country Thursday during an interview with CNN’s Anderson Cooper, saying there would be “no path to legalization.”

Clarifying his opposition to amnesty was a deft move for Trump, since it was immediately apparent a “softening” on the issue would not be enough to win over GOP establishment figures who’ve already decided to tacitly support Hillary Clinton.

“I can’t comment on his views, because his views are … they seem to be ever, ever-changing, depending on what crowd he’s in front of,” former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush said on WABC radio’s “Election Central” program. “Sounds like a typical politician, by the way, where you get in front of one crowd and say one thing, and then say something else to another crowd that may want to hear a different view. All the things that Donald Trump railed against, he seems to be morphing into. It’s kind of disturbing.”

Kasich, another former rival who has refused to endorse Trump, has not spoken out this week and his press secretary did not return calls or emails from LifeZette Thursday.

Christopher Devine, a political science professor at the University of Dayton, said he is not sure if a Trump softening would be enough to sway holdouts like Kasich. Yet, he added, Kasich could seem churlish if he refused to credit Trump even after the nominee moved in the direction that the governor recommended.

"I could certainly see that being used against Kasich if he doesn't go along with that," he said.

Connecticut Republican Party Chairman JR Romano said the heated reaction to Trump's immigration comments has been overblown. He sees Trump as working to refine his position on a complicated issue.

"As this becomes more real and more true, it comes down to execution," he said. "You have to get more and more concerned about how you execute an idea. I think that's what's happening. He's meeting with people, meeting with leaders."

But Gheen said he has gotten plenty of calls and emails from erstwhile supporters dismayed at Trump's suggestion of a shift. He said he believes Trump does not have to compromise on immigration to win back Establishment holdouts.

"Those people were going to creep in and push his button, anyway," he said.

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