The much-anticipated “pivot” in Donald Trump’s immigration platform seemingly did not materialise Wednesday night, as the Republican nominee doubled down on much of the hardline rhetoric that helped him secure the party’s nomination during the primary season.
Speaking in front of a large crowd of supporters in Phoenix, Trump laid out a 10-point immigration plan. That plan centered on building a massive wall along the US-Mexico border, cutting off funding to so-called sanctuary cities, and providing no “amnesty” to the more than 11 million immigrants currently living in the country illegally, among its other features.
The entire plan was consistent with the immigration platform posted to Trump’s campaign website in 2015.
Trump also spent a considerable portion of the opening minutes of the speech lambasting President Barack Obama’s administration and Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton for their policies on immigration and border security.
His speech came just hours after returning from a trip to Mexico City, where he met and delivered a joint statement with Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto, and he insisted in his primetime speech that the Mexican government will “100%” pay for the “impenetrable” border wall.
During an earlier press conference with the Mexican president, Trump said the pair did not discuss payment of the wall. But Peña Nieto later said that he informed Trump his government would not be footing the bill for the proposed wall.
“We will build a great wall along the southern border,” Trump said. “And Mexico will pay for the wall. 100%. They don’t know it yet, but they’re going to pay for the wall. Great people, and great leaders, but they’re going to pay for the wall.”
Trump also promised that his administration, should he be elected in November, would triple the number of Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents, hire 5,000 additional border agents, and, on “day one,” deport all criminals in the country illegally.
The business mogul pledged to end Obama’s pair of controversial executive actions on immigration. He also said immigrants from countries such as Libya and Syria would not be allowed to enter the US and that he would make sure countries would accept the deportees being sent back by his administration.
Legal immigration was also a subject in the more than hour-long speech, with Trump saying it would be much more difficult to enter the country legally under his administration and that only immigrants with “skills” who “benefit the national interest” would be embraced. He also doubled down on recent rhetoric involving “extreme vetting” for immigrants entering the country. He said they would be subject to a religious and ideological test.
“This election is our last chance to secure the border, stop illegal immigration, and reform our laws to make your life better,” Trump said, according to prepared remarks. “This is it. We won’t get another opportunity — it will be too late.”
The speech served as a hit for Trump’s base of support throughout the campaign. Conservative author Ann Coulter, who was recently discouraged by Trump’s “softening” on his immigration policies, was thrilled by his Wednesday speech, calling it “the most magnificent speech ever given.”
“Wow,” she said on Twitter. “This doesn’t sound like ‘softening.’ GO, TRUMP!!”
But more center-right Republican types cast doubt on its effectiveness. GOP strategist Matt Mackowiak, the founder of the Potomac Strategy Group, did not share Coulter’s sentiment. He called the speech “totally unserious” and “amateurish.”
“So the Trump ‘softening’ and desire to treat illegal immigrants ‘humanely’ was phony and a total waste of time,” he posted on Twitter.
Mackowiak said Trump campaign manager Kellyanne Conway and Jared Kushner, Trump’s son-in-law and close confidant, “must be embarrassed.”
“I have no inside info, but my strong suspicion is Trump intended to pivot & was persuaded to by Conway, but he couldn’t take the backlash,” he said.