Donald Trump Declines to Clarify Contradictory Immigration Positions

Haley Sweetland Edwards and Zeke J. Miller, TIME, June 28, 2016

Donald Trump’s campaign is going out of its way to withhold clarity about the candidate’s shifting positions on immigration, as he appears to be softening his hardline stance on deporting people in the U.S. illegally and banning Muslim visitors.

In interviews this week, Trump suggested that he was no longer committed to forcing the mass deportation of roughly 11 million who have immigrated to the U.S. illegally, a position he has repeated in campaign speeches and debates since August 2015. He now says he would pursue an immigration policy that would focus only on deporting “bad dudes”–a policy that echoes the enforcement priorities of the Obama administration.

Trump also walked back his oft-repeated promise to impose “a total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States,” a policy position enshrined in a December 2015 press release. On Saturday, Trump told reporters that he would not ban all Muslim immigrants, but only those from “terror countries.” “I don’t want people coming in–I don’t want people coming in from certain countries,” he told the Daily Mail. “I don’t want people coming in from the terror countries. You have terror countries. I don’t want them, unless they’re very, very strongly vetted.”

Trump did not specify which immigrants would qualify as “bad dudes,” and therefore be subject to deportation. {snip}

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If elected, Trump has promised to wage an “unpredictable” foreign policy, and much of his domestic agenda follows the same maxim. By staking out differing, sometimes opposing positions on the same issue, Trump keeps his opponents and even his own supporters guessing. The lack of clarity stems both from Trump’s own unfamiliarity with some complex policy issues–he fashions himself a big-picture and instinctual leader–but also represents an effort at deliberate ambiguity.

The latest immigration shifts suggest that the presumptive Republican presidential nominee is willing to embrace more centrist rhetoric before the general election. But it also marks the latest in a long line of instances in which Trump has dissembled, reversed himself, and walked back previous policy commitments, revealing an increasingly hard-to-pin-down platform just weeks ahead of the Republican convention in July. Trump appears to be betting that the confusion will allow him to appeal to all sides, while allowing him an out should the temperature of any one proposal get too hot.

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It’s common for politicians to change their rhetoric between the blustery primary season and the more staid and centrist general election. “Pivoting” from more radical policies to more inclusive ones is a tried-and-true move in the dark arts of politics. But most of Trump’s shape-shifting policy positions aren’t exactly “pivots.” Trump doesn’t move between positions on a linear spectrum so much he layers different responses atop one another, embracing a vast pallet of colorful language. The result is a muddled canvas of opinions, where so many competing colors are represented that both supporters and the campaign itself can point out whichever shade fits the mood of the moment.

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