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Putting reverse spin on Trump’s deportation flip-flop

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It is a staple of American politics for candidates to be vague about certain of their positions. Republicans and Democrats alike have thrown up obscuring smokescreens around issues that make them uncomfortable since the founding of the Republic.

For example, in late 19th century post-Reconstruction America, one of the burning issues was Civil Service reform. For decades Presidents had rewarded their supporters by giving them, and their friends, plush political appointments to high office—for example, as local Postmasters. This ensured party loyalty, but it smacked of corruption, offending good-government types who wanted such appointments to be based on merit. A long succession of Republican Presidents, starting with Grant and going right up to McKinley, avoided making decisions. The Republican Party liked the patronage system; Democrats wanted reform, and it was popular with the people, but Dems were never strong enough to push it through. So every time the issue of Civil Service reform came up, Republicans dodged it with talk that sounded meaningful, but was actually devoid of substance.

Democrats could play the same game. One of the most famous examples of the 20th century was Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s artful dodging of the issue of becoming involved in World War II. He personally thought the U.S. should fight on the side of our allies, Britain and France, against the menace Hitler and Mussolini clearly posed. But so ardent was isolationist feeling in this country that F.D.R. had to be vague about his future intentions. For example, in a Boston speech, in 1940, he said something that was misleading, at best: “To you mothers and fathers, I give you one more assurance. I have said this before, but I shall say it again and again and again: Your boys are not going to be sent into any foreign wars.”

He knew it was not a true statement, knew that war for American boys was inevitable. The word “foreign” was his hedge. If America were attacked—and Roosevelt was sure it eventually would be—then any ensuing war would not be “foreign” but defensive. And that’s exactly how things played out after the December, 1941 attack on Pearl Harbor.

So we should never be surprised when a politician hedges or backtracks or “flip-flops,” to use the current jargon. However, there are minor hedges and major hedges, and a politician who backtracks on the major promise of his political rise, the one that secured him the presidential nomination, is one whose honesty and intellectual ability ought to be subject to the closest scrutiny.

Which brings us to today’s topic, which is, of course, Donald Trump’s bizarre meandering around the topic of deporting undocumented immigrants. His fundamental promise, on announcing for office, was that he would deport the estimated 11 million Mexicans living here more or less illegally. Nearly a year ago, for instance, he told Americans he would build “a deportation force” the same way he built “an unbelievable company worth billions and billions of dollars.”

Most thinking people understood from the beginning that Trump was lying. Nobody expected him to create some kind of uniformed Internal Security Deportation Squad, which would knock on doors in the middle of the night, seize parents from their screaming children, pack them up into black vans and dump them at gunpoint on the Mexican border. Nobody, that is, except his credulous and largely uneducated supporters, who piled all their resentments in life on the backs of farm workers, hotel maids, gardeners and kitchen line cooks.

Trump ran toward the extreme in the primaries and now is making a mad dash back towards the center, in order to win the general by appealing to less-crazy voters. Still, he can now be seen jettisoning his central campaign promise: as yesterday’s Washington Post reports, “Trump won’t say definitively whether he backs mass deportation.”

Well, naturally he won’t say it “definitively” because he knows he can’t mass-deport people. He knows it will never happen, just as he has known from the beginning. Truth, such as it is, has never mattered to the Trump campaign.

WashPo’s reporter described Trump’s problem accurately: On the one hand, [Trump supporters] say no amnesty, no legalization, and everyone out. On the other, they don’t have the nerve to say they are going to kick out grandmothers and little children, college students and hard-working adults who have been here most of their lives.” The end result is a chaotic mishmash of meaninglessness.

It would be one thing for Trump to equivocate on less emotional issues, such as how he would renegotiate trade deals. The devil is in the details on things like that: he could get away with obfuscation. But for him to back away from the central guarantee he made to his supporters is really unprecedented in modern Presidential elections. It is as if Obama, running on a promise of expanding healthcare for all Americans, were suddenly, on the eve of the election, to announce that maybe that’s not such a good idea after all.

Trump’s image managers, such as the P.R. spin artist Kellyanne Conway, will try to avoid having to answer hard questions, but I figure a relentless Press will force her to address her candidate’s inconsistencies. “How can he back-pedal on deportation?” reporters will ask her. Here’s how she’ll answer: First, she’ll tell them they’ll have to ask the candidate himself, since she doesn’t write policy (LOL). When they insist, she’ll explain that, actually, the retreat on deportation is a sign of Trump’s growing political sophistication. “His position on this issue, as on many issues, is constantly evolving,” she’ll aver, adding, for good measure, “just as you’d want him to. We want our candidates for public office to continue to learn as situations change, don’t we?” And then she’ll stick it to Hillary Clinton. “Unlike Secretary Clinton, whose secret emails about Benghazi show that some people never change their basic dishonesty and untrustworthiness.”

And that’s the way to take an embarrassing situation, turn it around with reverse spin, and hope American voters are dumb enough to buy it.

  1. Still not commenting on politics.

    Rather, once again economics.

    “How Much Trump’s Immigration Plan Would Cost the U.S.;
    If he needs illegal immigrants to go, and Mexico doesn’t pick up the tab, it’s not going to be cheap.”

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