If this is Donald Trump's pivot for the general election, it is a 360-degree turn back to where he started: unpredictable, inconsistent and bellicose in his xenophobic tirades on immigration. A quick trip to Mexico in an attempt to appear presidential backfired, and his much-anticipated speech in Arizona softened neither his rhetoric nor his unworkable plans to build walls and deport millions of undocumented immigrants. Trump may have reassured supporters who feared he was moderating, but he did nothing to reach out to voters dissatisfied with both presidential candidates.
In Mexico City, Trump sounded unusually measured. He described Mexicans as "spectacular, hard-working people,'' lavished praise on the ability of the two nations to work together and talked of improving the North American Free Trade Agreement after ripping it apart for months. He claimed he "didn't discuss" with President Enrique Peña Nieto who would pay for a new border wall. That seemed odd, given that Trump vows at virtually every stop that he will force Mexico to pay for it.
Indeed, the veneer of polite diplomacy quickly disappeared. Before Trump spoke in Arizona, Peña Nieto tweeted Wednesday that he told Trump that Mexico would not pay for a wall. And the Republican nominee then whipped up his supporters in Phoenix by declaring, "Mexico will pay for the wall. One hundred percent. They don't know it, but they're going to pay for it.'' Imagine a President Trump meeting privately with world leaders on issues ranging from trade to security, lying about the substance of their conversations and then delivering an entirely different message at home as though there are no television cameras or Internet.
No wonder Trump's immigration speech was delayed a week. The suggestion by his latest campaign manager that Trump's refined position would be "fair and humane" and that it was "to be determined'' whether it would include a deportation force ruffled the Republican nominee's core supporters — and proved to be a head fake. Trump's rambling speech included 10 points, and the deportation force morphed into relying on local law enforcement to go after undocumented immigrants. But there was absolutely nothing fair or humane about it.
The message remains one that plays to the worst impulses and fears of white Americans struggling with a more diverse, technology-driven nation. While the Obama administration has deported an unprecedented 2.4 million undocumented immigrants and Border Patrol staffing is at a record high, Trump rails about the lack of enforcement and amnesty. While illegal immigration from Mexico has been slowing and the U.S. crime rate has been declining, he paints a picture of undocumented immigrants streaming across the border and overwhelming countless neighborhoods with violent crimes.
The reality this week remains the same as last week. There will be no border wall financed by Mexico. Some 11 million undocumented immigrants will not be deported, or forced to return to their country of origin and apply to re-enter. Local police departments are not going to become arms of the federal government and round up undocumented immigrants.
Trump insisted again Thursday his immigration proposal is "humane'' and "softening.'' It is nothing of the sort, and any suggestion of a pivot to appeal to general election voters is just more spin.