After spending the better part of a week giving his oldest and best supporters the vapors over his incoherent immigration message, Trump is rumored to have put all those doubts to rest with his much-ballyhooed immigration policy speech. His speech has led immigration opponents to say all sorts of absurd things – things like Donald Trump is now a policy wonk. The general assumption, I guess, is that Trump did himself a lot of favors by returning to his hard line immigration roots.
I wonder if people who step outside the bubble where the quasi-think tanks that rail against immigration live realize how out of step their position (and, by extension, the position Trump arrived at last night) is with the general American population. By an overwhelming 66-32% margin, Americans oppose a policy of deporting all illegal immigrants back to their home country. Even non-Hispanic whites oppose such a program 62-36%.
The American public likewise opposes building a wall along the border of Mexico by a 65-33% margin. And here is the most damaging thing of all: well over 80% of the country supports what Trump and his supporters derisively refer to as “amnesty.”
The thing is, these positions are also majority positions among Republican votersas well. Even within the insular world of Republican primary voters, they are likely no more than an even polling proposition. Recall that Trump had collected a mere 37% of the Republican primary vote on the date Cruz dropped out of the race. Objectively speaking, if you’ve made Ann Coulter and Roy Beck happy with your immigration rhetoric, you’ve probably pissed off most of America.
Even if you set that aside, though – even if Trump were now helping himself for the general election with his immigration policy – he certainly wouldn’t have done himself any favors with his behavior over the last week. I’m not naive enough to think that the American voting public makes their decisions based on a detailed analysis of the candidates’ positions on the issues. The American people vote much more on impressions of the candidates that they gather – often from hazy and imperfect information about what the candidates have said and done.
And the one area where Trump is getting killed right now – the single area he is losing decisively – is the ethereal quality of “having the right temperament to be President.”
The American people are not above forgiving a candidate for showing some ideological flexibility on an issue or two here or there. But the whiplash Trump has given the whole country on his core, signature issue – only to come back to settle exactly where he was to begin this campaign (which was itself a flip-flop) – will do little to reassure people that they will ever be able to predict what Trump will do next.
And generally, that’s kind of what Americans want from their President. At times of great stress for the country, they want a man (or woman) of greatness. But mostly, they want someone who is boring. Someone who they don’t have to constantly worry about as they go about living their lives. Kind of the opposite of what they apparently want from candidates.
Say what you want about Trump, but he makes it interesting. The question is whether it’s the kind of interesting Americans want in a President.