Was it only a "metaphor"?

Photographer: David McNew

Trump's 2,000-Mile Mistake

Francis Wilkinson writes editorials on politics and U.S. domestic policy for Bloomberg View. He was executive editor of the Week. He was previously a national affairs writer for Rolling Stone, a communications consultant and a political media strategist.
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Even Donald Trump recognizes that he has an immigration problem. No, I'm not talking about his wife, Melania, whose promised news conference detailing her sketchy immigration history has, almost three weeks after Trump announced it, still failed to materialize. I'm talking about the pronouncements -- mass deportations, the famous Mexican-financed border wall -- that have been the centerpiece of Trump's presidential campaign.

With November's election fast approaching, it seems Trump is having second thoughts. Given this particular candidacy, it's equally plausible that Trump is having first thoughts. There is no evidence that he has ever seriously considered any issue, including immigration. His purpose throughout the Republican primary was to convey hostility to Hispanic immigrants, and to validate the hostility of his crowds. Accusing Mexicans of crimes and promising deportations and a wall to keep them out accomplished his goal. Were his pronouncements actual policies that Trump intended to carry out? I don't know. Maybe.

Now, polls are showing the limits of bigotry and boorishness in a general election. While the horse-race numbers have been generally bad for Trump, a Pew Research poll released this week is arguably worse. It reveals why he might want to wiggle out of his promises to deport 11 million undocumented immigrants and erect an impenetrable wall along the southwestern border.

Public opinion has been moving away from Trump. In 2014, Pew Research found that Americans valued border security over a pathway to citizenship for undocumented immigrants, with 33 percent opting for security and 23 percent for a pathway to citizenship. Now, after more than a year of Trump's nativist chants, 24 percent prefer security and 29 percent choose a pathway.

A year ago, Pew found 46 percent supported fencing the Mexican border and 48 percent opposed it. In the survey released this week, Pew uses the term "wall" -- Trump's lingo -- instead of "fence." The numbers are devastating for him, with 36 percent supporting a wall and 61 percent opposed. Trump is not winning converts. If anything, his campaign is helping to discredit his positions.

The context is broader than Trump. In 2014, when Pew last asked the security versus pathway question, "unaccompanied minors from Central America were entering the country in large numbers (relatively speaking)," said Mark Hugo Lopez, Pew's director of Hispanic research, via e-mail. "And there was a lot of news coverage of the event. That may have increased the share of Americans who said better border security should be the priority."

President Barack Obama, in conjunction with the Mexican government, cracked down on the flow of migrants from Central America. This has appalled advocates for child migrants, but it has removed some of the kindling from Trump's fire.

Immigration, in Trump's crude vernacular, is only partly about immigration in any case. It is mostly about race. And here, too, Trump is losing.

From August 18 to 24, Quinnipiac University surveyed 1,498 likely voters nationwide, asking them: "Do you think the way Donald Trump talks appeals to bigotry, or not?" 

Voters accustomed to a steady purr of racial politics appear to register that Trump is a different kind of cat. By 59 percent to 36 percent they said that, yes, he does appeal to bigotry.

 In the Washington Post, Philip Bump wrote:

Even worse for Trump, a plurality of every demographic save Republicans felt that he appealed to bigotry, including majorities of independents, men, women, whites with or without college degrees, people aged 64 or younger and both whites and nonwhites. Among all whites, 54 percent felt that Trump appeals to bigotry (with 50 percent of white men agreeing). Among nonwhites, the figure was 72 percent.

On Thursday, Hillary Clinton unleashed a searing attack on Trump, citing his own racially charged language, his links to racists and his documented history of racially biased business practices. Her campaign accented the speech with a 17-page fact sheet it had been saving for the occasion.

Trump's "deportation force" and "beautiful wall" may never have been more than a slapdash hoax -- or, as some have called the wall, a "metaphor". Perhaps, on the other hand, Trump was always deadly serious. Either way, Trump's immigration stance is teetering. Without an abrupt change in the campaign's trajectory, he'll be buried beneath the rubble one way or another.

This column does not necessarily reflect the opinion of the editorial board or Bloomberg LP and its owners.

To contact the author of this story:
Francis Wilkinson at fwilkinson1@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story:
Katy Roberts at kroberts29@bloomberg.net