Surprise! Donald Trump's self-declared "softening" on immigration is gone, replaced by a recommitment to a hardline policy that could best be described as mass deportation. Shouting his remarks to a fired-up crowd in Arizona, which has been home to some of the most contentious immigration policy fights of the last decade, Trump pledged a maximal approach that would target every undocumented immigrant in the country without mercy.
Donald Trump's position on immigration policy was in need of some clarification. The Republican candidate won over the GOP's far-right base with his hardline rhetoric during the party's presidential primaries, but in recent weeks, Trump and many of his allies introduced words like "softening" and "pivoting" into the political conversation.
Sept. 1, 201616:12
Those expecting to see the GOP candidate moderating his approach and trying to appeal to a broader national audience were left wanting. The old Trump line and the new Trump line are the same: mass deportations, a massive border wall, new limits on legal immigration, and an end to President Obama's executive actions on immigration, including protection for Dream Act kids.
Trump was less specific about his intentions towards the millions of undocumented immigrants who are already in the United States and who've committed no crimes, but he nevertheless made clear that these people would, at a minimum, be eligible for deportation -- a policy intended to force these immigrants to hide in society's shadows, fearing removal.
"We will set priorities," Trump said, "but unlike this administration, no one will be immune or exempt from enforcement."
There can be no doubt that the candidate on the Arizona stage last night was every bit as extreme as the candidate Americans saw during the Republican presidential primaries. Anyone who took Trump's "softening" rhetoric seriously was played for a fool.
As Slate's Isaac Chotiner put it, "However absurd and dishonest Donald Trump's substance-less faux-pivot of the last several weeks was, it operated with a certain subconscious effectiveness on regular Trump-watchers. Maybe new campaign manager Kellyanne Conway really was making a difference. Maybe Trump really was changing his rhetoric, if not his heart. But after Wednesday night's loud, angry, and hateful speech on immigration, it should be impossible to view him as anything but a demagogue."
The speech was helpful to the extent that it answered questions raised by the campaign itself. Would Trump begin to moderate his position as the general election drew closer? Would Americans see a "pivot"? Would Trump shake the Etch-A-Sketch and try to pull off an egregious flip-flop? Is the Republican nominee prepared to upset some of his right-wing backers in the hopes of expanding his appeal?
Last night offered an unambiguous answer to all of these questions: No.
Those in need of clarification from Trump received exactly what they were looking for.