Trump’s New Strategy: Anger Latinos and His Deportation-Loving Base

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That's the ticket.
Photo: Angelo Merendino/Getty Images

Less than a week after his campaign reboot, the new and improved Donald Trump is attempting a very difficult maneuver: alienating Latino voters even further, while potentially enraging his base by softening his cartoonishly tough stance against illegal immigration.

Over the weekend, there were reports that in his first meeting with his Hispanic advisory council, Trump suggested that he would unveil a plan to make millions of undocumented immigrants legal residents. This sparked immediate accusations of flip-flopping, since an extreme stance against illegal immigration is the closest thing Trump has to a policy proposal. Yesterday afternoon, Trump canceled a major speech on immigration scheduled for later in the week, and said, cryptically, that he’s trying to find “a really fair, but firm” way to address the immigration issue.

Trump insisted he was not reversing his position, but on The O’Reilly Factor he revealed that months of talk about a “deportation force” whisking 11 million people out of the country might have been a tantalizing illusion, not unlike Trump Steaks.

The first part of his plan sounded familiar. “The first thing we’re going to do, if and when I win, is we’re going to get rid of all of the bad ones,” Trump said. “We’ve got gang members, we have killers, we have a lot of bad people that have to get out of this country. We’re going to get them out, and the police know who they are. They’re known by law enforcement who they are. We don’t do anything. They go around killing people and hurting people, and they’re going to be out of this country so fast your head will spin. We have existing laws that allow you to do that.”

But what about everyone else? “What people don’t know is that Obama got tremendous numbers of people out of the country,” Trump said. “Bush, the same thing. Lots of people were brought out of the country with the existing laws. Well, I’m going to do the same thing.” Later in the interview he added, “As far as the rest, we’re going to go through the process, like they are now, perhaps with a lot more energy, and we’re going to do it only through the system of laws.”

So, as the Washington Post notes, Trump’s big plan is to do what Obama’s doing — targeting “felons, not families” for deportation — but he’ll give it “a lot more energy.” When Bill O’Reilly suggested setting up detention centers to hold people awaiting immigration hearings, Trump said repeatedly that he is not in favor of that. “I’m not talking about detention centers,” he said. “I have very, very good relationships with a lot of people, a lot of Hispanic people. We’re talking about it.”

Apparently Trump has his doubts, because later on Monday night, he tested his relationship with Hispanic voters. Initially, it looked like Trump was getting back to basics at his rally in Akron, Ohio. “We’re going to build a wall folks, don’t worry, we’re going to build a wall,” he said. “That wall will go up so fast, your head will spin.”

But then, Trump abandoned his prepared remarks, telling Hispanic voters that their lives are so bad right now that there’s really no risk in giving Trump a shot at the presidency. “Our government has totally failed our African American friends, our Hispanic friends, and the people of our country. Period,” Trump told the mostly white crowd. “The Democrats have failed completely in the inner cities.” He elaborated:

Poverty. Rejection. Horrible education. No housing, no homes, no ownership. Crime at levels that nobody has seen. You can go to war zones in countries that we are fighting and it’s safer than living in some of our inner cities that are run by the Democrats. And I ask you this, I ask you this — crime, all of the problems — to the African Americans, who I employ so many, so many people, to the Hispanics, tremendous people: What the hell do you have to lose? Give me a chance. I’ll straighten it out. I’ll straighten it out. What do you have to lose?

… Look, it is a disaster the way African Americans are living, in many cases, and, in many cases, the way Hispanics are living, and I say it with such a deep-felt feeling: What do you have to lose? I will straighten it out. I’ll bring jobs back. We’ll bring spirit back. We’ll get rid of the crime. You’ll be able to walk down the street without getting shot. Right now, you walk down the street, you get shot. Look at the statistics. We’ll straighten it out. If you keep voting for the same failed politicians, you will keep getting the same results. They don’t care about you. They just like you once every four years — get your vote and then they say: “Bye, bye!”

If that sounds like something you’ve heard before, that’s because Trump has faced criticism in recent days for trying to win over black voters by telling them that their lives are horrible. Presumably his many Latino friends will not take kindly to his suggestion that they too live in American war zones where they’re constantly shot just for walking down the street. Then again, the roughly 26 percent of Hispanic voters leaning toward Trump stuck with him after he called undocumented immigrants “criminals, drug dealers, and rapists,” so maybe they don’t mind playing the victim in Trump’s American dystopia for a change.