High on decibels, low on policy details and devoid of anything new, Donald Trump’s latest immigration speech was still a lurid reminder of why he must not become president.
It was a chilling speech, in the sense that watching someone fling chum at a school of sharks is chilling. It was designed to whip his hardest of hard-core supporters into enough of a frenzy that they would forget how he spent the past week flirting with softening his hard-line immigration stance, and watering down his deportation plan to essentially the same thing as President Obama’s policy, but “with a lot more energy.” It only seemed to upset conservatives, and earned him the ire of right-wingers like Ann Coulter and Sarah Palin.
Appearing to “soften” his immigration stance served the same purpose as Trump’s so-called “outreach” to African Americans. Neither was ever intended to earn Trump more votes from groups he’s spent most of his campaign disparaging. Instead, it was designed to convince college-educated white voters that he isn’t really all that racist, and perhaps persuade more of them to vote for him.
So, it came as a surprise to many when Donald Trump — who said in his presidential announcement speech that Mexico “is not our friend, believe me” — made a seemingly unexpected trip to Mexico this week. Mexicans planned massive protests to make it clear that Trump is not welcome, and appealed to Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto to rescind his invitation to Trump. Trump had barely left the meeting when trouble ensued. Trump told reporters that the two men discussed Trump’s wall, but did not discuss payment. Almost instantly, Nieto was online telling the world that Trump lied. Nieto said he told Trump that Mexico would not be paying for any border wall.
Most Republican presidential run to the right during the primaries to get the votes of the GOP base, and spend most of the general election running to the center in order to get enough votes to win. The best manage to do so while keeping their base satisfied that the candidate is still really on their side, without having to run back the right to keep the base on their side, because they’ve already won the trust of base voters.
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Trump has spent the past week seeing just how far he can get from the position he started the campaign with – the positions that his base loves but that don’t fly with the majority of Americans. He’s been cheating toward the center, seeing how far he can go without losing his base. Or worse yet, have them turn on him.
Remember the Trump supporter who called into Glenn Beck’s show, the call Beck said was the “spookiest” he’s ever received? The caller threatened to “go after” Trump personally if as president he reneges on building the wall. “You don’t even understand the backlash of us, the ones who are so frustrated and angry and tired of all the political stuff. We’re going to come after him personally. You know what I mean? We’re going to get him,” he said.
He suggested that even violence might be necessary.
“Well, I mean, hey, you yourself said he’s condoned violence in the past, hasn’t he?” the caller asked rhetorically. “I’m just saying, he’s appealing to people who are very frustrated and angry. Their frustration and anger can only be subsided if he makes his promises true. And he has a lot on his shoulders. Maybe he himself doesn’t even know how much. But if he doesn’t come through for us, he’s going to have bigger problems, bigger problems than what you know.”
Trump’s “sound and fury” on immigration signifies nothing, except that is not immune to the rage he encourages in his base — and he might just know it. After a week of toying with the center on immigration, Trump’s posturing in Mexico and his speech in Arizona was another attempt to have it both ways on immigration. Having failed to earn, and even appearing to abuse, his supporters’ trust, Trump can only hope to avoid their ire.