This piece originally appeared on NBCNews.com
Trump pumped up over 5,000 at a rally in Austin, Texas this week by pledging a border wall that Mexico would pay for it, and that there would be a return to lawful immigration (translation — no more executive orders protecting undocumented immigrants). Classic Trump.
But just hours before this rally Trump sang a different tune. At a pre-taped town hall hosted by Fox News’ Sean Hannity,l Trump said he would be open to softening his view on mass deportation, “There certainly can be a softening because we’re not looking to hurt people.”
Trump launched his presidential campaign touting his toughness on immigration. Throughout the primary elections he pledged to build a wall and deport all undocumented persons. He then doubled down on his immigration stances at the Republican National Convention.
Now Trump is pivoting on his immigration stance – at least when it comes to deportation. The night before his Austin rally Trump appeared with Fox News’ Bill O’Reilly and introduced a version of his deportation plan that is essentially the one now in place.
O’Reilly asked Trump, “Are you really rethinking your mass deportation strategy” to which he answered, “I just want to follow the law, the existing laws are very strong.” He went on to say that he wants to “get rid of all the bad ones—gang members, killers…as far as everybody else we’re going to follow the process.”
So how is this different than the Department of Homeland Security’s Enforcement Priorities program that prioritizes criminal felons? It’s not.
The idea of deporting over 11 million people is ludicrous. The cost of physically removing all of these individuals would be over $500 billion and that’s not counting the larger impact on our economy which is estimated at over $1 trillion over the next twenty years.
But Trump doesn’t seem to be constrained by such details – the logistics of the border wall are also not the most economically practical.
The rationale for his immigration pivot is simple – he wants to keep his base happy and win over some new supporters. His brand as a candidate is inextricably linked to being tough on immigration. At the same time the polls are making it increasingly clear that he can’t win with the base alone.
So the new strategy is for Trump to hold steady on his wall pledge yet recant on his call for mass deportation. In other words, Trump wants his immigration and to eat it too.
We have seen time and again that Trump supporters are a forgiving bunch. They may let his deportation softening slide but for moderate Republicans and Republican Latinos it may be too little too late.