Donald Trump’s brutal war with himself over immigration has obscured an important truth: His plan is a dash to the polar ideological right and away from any serious discussion of fixing a shattered system.
Some commentators have said that Trump lite — the version of his plan in which some undocumented immigrants aren’t immediately swept up in junta-like raids — isn’t too different from what Obama’s done in increasing deportations while awaiting a comprehensive immigration bill.
That’s ridiculous. Obama’s stated and pursued goal is comprehensive immigration reform that renders the deportation question all but moot. Trump is zig-zagging between a mass deportation force that would make Mao’s long march look like a Sunday stroll on a golf course and a massive increase in deportations that would focus first on criminals, and then gets a bit murkier after that. He has a secret plan for deportation, much like his secret plan to win the war against ISIS. One of the many lessons of the Richard Nixon presidency — Trump adviser and Nixon stooge Roger Stone will remember this — is don’t trust a candidate who has a secret plan for anything.
The proposal that isn’t a big secret: Trump wants to build a border wall — with Mexico’s money. If you don’t have a border, Trump says, you don’t have a country. But we currently have both borders and a country.
Trump has failed to make a convincing case that his immigration proposals, including his plan to block people from certain countries from entering the U.S., are based on anything but a desire to whiten the American population. Ask the unabashed white supremacists who treat him like the Grand Wizard of the Alt-White.
The danger isn’t in what Trump has failed to do. It’s in his success. The GOP is coalescing around him. Some of that has to do with Hillary Clinton. But some of it is that he’s profited yet again from breaking another fundamental rule of American politics: Never negotiate against yourself.
He’s given different versions of himself to GOP voters, allowing those who want to stick with the party to pick the Donald they like best. All of his solutions are to the right of the comprehensive immigration plan that the Senate passed so long ago that it’s now a dusty memory. But when he says he would only deport criminals, there’s a certain calm that settles over the country club — even if he won’t say what he would do next or when, or why it’s a good idea to leave an entire class of people in limbo for even longer.
We’re no longer debating real, bipartisan policy solutions for addressing a variety of immigration-related issues. We’re not trying to figure out how to integrate undocumented immigrants who contribute to our economy more fully into American society. We’re not talking about combating cross-border crime or how to make sure companies in the U.S. have labor available to them.
We’re arguing over which Trump would show up in the White House: the one the white supremacists love or the one who’s to the right of the Republican establishment on immigration but a couple of steps short of full-fledged purger-in-chief.
But it’s clear that the many faces of Trump’s immigration platform represent a major departure from the thoughtful consensus that brought Bush, Obama and a Senate majority together. Trump would plunge the U.S. further into debt to build his wall and to create a deportation army, he’d rob the U.S. of valuable contributors to the economy and our community, and he would steal from us a measure of our humanity and compassion.
Trump wants us to be confused about his immigration policy. Don’t be fooled: Any version of Trump’s plan is scapegoating masquerading as policymaking.
Roll Call columnist Jonathan Allen is co-author of the New York Times-bestselling Clinton biography “HRC” and has covered Congress, the White House and elections over the past 15 years.