Donald Trump tries to soften key stance on illegals

By Jenna Johnson

Trump's shifts appear aimed at shoring up support among white GOP moderates. Photo / AP
Trump's shifts appear aimed at shoring up support among white GOP moderates. Photo / AP

Donald Trump's campaign has wavered on whether he would continue to call for the mass deportation of 11 million illegal immigrants from the United States, the latest in a series of sometimes-clumsy attempts to win over moderate Republican voters without alienating millions who have flocked to his hard-line views.

After insisting for more than a year that all illegal immigrants "have to go," Trump met a newly created panel of Hispanic advisers and asked for other ideas - making it clear that his position is not finalised, according to two attendees. Any shift would represent a remarkable retreat on one of the Republican nominee's signature issues.

The meeting prompted attempts by Trump advisers to clarify his position. Campaign manager Kellyanne Conway said on CNN that Trump's stance on mass deportations was "to be determined" but that he will be "fair and humane for those who live among us in this country". Republican Senator Jeff Sessions of Alabama, a close Trump adviser, said on CBS that the nominee is "wrestling" with the issue but has not changed his position yet.

"People that are here unlawfully, came into the country against our laws, are subject to being removed," Sessions said. "That's just plain fact."

The remarks were the latest in a series of moves by Trump or his aides in recent weeks to alter or shade his position on issues that have been central to his appeal .

The national polls have become slightly tighter - Democrat Hillary Clinton leads by a poll average of 5.3 per cent - but the polls in the the swing states which decide the election heavily favour Clinton. She leads by about 10 per cent in Pennsylvania, Virginia, New Hampshire, Wisconsin and Colorado. Clinton is also ahead in the important states of Ohio, Florida and Michigan.

Trump's shifts appear aimed at shoring up support among white GOP moderates who have been reluctant to support extreme positions staked out by Trump during the Republican primary, including a massive US-Mexico border wall, deportation of illegal immigrants and a "total" ban on foreign Muslims.

At the same time, any oscillation carries the risk of alienating Trump's most loyal supporters, many of whom adore his willingness to buck "political correctness" by laying out brash proposals. Trump has thrived in part by staying vague on most of his policy positions, vacillating between extreme rhetoric and assurances of reasonableness. Hillary Clinton's campaign aides and critics of Trump have urged voters to focus on the concrete promises and proposals that Trump has made rather than opaque rhetoric.

One key case in point is Trump's position on foreign-born Muslims. In December, Trump issued a written statement calling for a "total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States," although within days he said it would be temporary and would include a number of exceptions. By the northern spring, he seemed to back away from the controversial proposal, calling it "just a suggestion," only to double down once again following an Isis-inspired mass shooting at an Orlando gay nightclub. Then this northern summer, Trump stopped using the word "Muslim," instead saying he would focus on "areas of the world where there's a proven history of terrorism against the United States" and implement "extreme vetting".

Rick Wilson, a longtime GOP strategist who strongly opposes Trump, called Trump's shape-shifting on such issues "irritating". Wilson said: "He lets people fill in the blanks mentally for what they think he's saying, not what he's actually saying. The people that are fanatics about Trump just say, 'Oh, well, he meant the one that I liked'."

- Washington Post

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