Immigration is Donald Trump’s signature issue and the centerpiece of his entire campaign, but in last night’s debate he didn’t seem to know what he believed from one minute to the next. Faced with aggressive questioning from the moderators as well as Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz, Trump alternated between schoolyard insults and rhetorical contortions which resembled the political equivalent of Harry Houdini’s greatest escapes. On the topic nearest and dearest to the hearts of many of his supporters and which he has spent months talking about non-stop, he was by turns clueless, feckless, and completely off-balance.
The biggest surprise was when he admitted to Megyn Kelly on national television that he’s flexible and willing to negotiate on his core issue:
Trump replied: “I’m changing it and I’m softening the position because we have to have talented people in this country.”
After the debate, however, Trump issued a statement suggesting that his position on the issue had not changed.
Responding to Marco Rubio’s attack on the Trump clothing lines which are manufactured overseas, he said that businesses (including his own) “have to” outsource in order to remain competitive and blamed his hypocrisy on the devaluation of the Yuan, as though he is powerless to control his business practices. When Trump said he hires foreign workers at his hotels for jobs Americans won’t do–a liberal cliché–Ted Cruz countered with a brilliant rebuttal by asking for a show of hands from the audience of who had ever waited on tables. Rubio then jumped in with the most memorable line of the night when he compared Trump’s circumlocutions to a yoga workout.
Many Republicans, including this writer, happen to agree with Trump (at least, until he changes his mind again) that we need reduced barriers to trade and a more open immigration policy. Republicans generally support free trade because it benefits everyone by providing Americans with inexpensive goods and services while also raising the standard of living in developing countries. We have seen this especially with China where there is now a growing middle class which is beginning to seek greater religious and political freedom. Within 15 years, China could have the largest Christian population in the world. That is a positive change that benefits our economy and our security in the long run.
However, Trump’s popularity is based entirely on the exact opposite view that America should insulate itself from the world and engage in crippling trade wars and mass deportations which would wreck the U.S. economy while also halting the amazing amelioration of global poverty of the last century. His viewpoint is based on the false dichotomy perpetuated by liberals that the interests of business are somehow inimical to the interests of the common man. The Democrats want to punish business. Trump wants to punish immigrants and block foreign trade. Both would harm America. Under his protectionist regime, prices of the most basic goods would rise, which would disproportionately harm families with lower incomes.
Trump can’t have it both ways. As the old saying goes which is variously attributed to Abraham Lincoln or P.T. Barnum, “You may fool all the people some of the time; you can even fool some of the people all the time; but you can’t fool all of the people all the time.” It’s rumored that the New York Times has an audio recording of an off-the-record interview where Trump admits he will be much softer on immigration than the bilious and bellicose tone of his public statements would have us believe, but at this point, we don’t even need to hear the tapes. Last night’s debate gave the game away.
Many commentators and observers have been saying for months now that Trump’s entire campaign is just another “reality” program–which is to say not real at all–and that Trump’s racist, isolationist, and divisive rhetoric is a sham and a charade. Well-meaning voters who are understandably angry about the dismal economy and America’s declining standing in the world are energized and excited by Trump’s promises, but pundits and prognosticators have warned that they are being duped and hoodwinked. Last night, Trump proved the critics right.