Could Any Speech on Illegal Immigration Help Trump?

The Republican candidate has promised to address the subject Wednesday in Arizona, where he expects a huge crowd. What he’ll tell them is a mystery.

Carlo Allegri / Reuters

Last year, after journalist Kashmir Hill spent a week writing in ALL CAPS as an experiment, she reflected, “Once I got used to all caps, I started shortening everything I wrote. No need for clauses and throat clearing. You can’t write ‘I THINK’ or ‘PERHAPS’ in all caps. One who is writing in all caps is certain about the world.”

Her assessment came back to me Sunday when Donald J. Trump, who lives in a building that says TRUMP TOWER, used Twitter to announce a forthcoming speech:

The caps conveys an aura of certainty about what he’s going to say. And yet, most recent evidence suggests that Trump is totally confounded by this issue. In fact, he only recently postponed a different planned speech on illegal immigration.

It’s easy to see why.

After the 2012 election, Trump suggested that Republican Mitt Romney lost in part because his position that illegal immigrants should be induced to “self-deport” was too harsh.

Then, during the 2016 GOP primaries, Trump chose rhetoric that was far harsher. At various times, he promised a wall and mass deportations, urged a religious test for entering the country, called for “extreme vetting” of immigrants, and called an American born judge a Mexican unfit to preside over a lawsuit accusing Trump University of defrauding students. All this won Trump headlines and a base of support from hardliners who feel perennially betrayed by the Republican establishment, even as it alienated moderates and caused Trump to be loathed by a huge number of Hispanics. It was hard to see how he could change his positions on immigration, of all issues. Many of his detractors would never forgive his strident bigotry.

Among his supporters, “There's nothing Trump can do that won't be forgiven,” the right-wing provocateur Ann Coulter said, “except change his immigration policies."

Yet Trump did appear to be trying to alter his immigration position last week, as his poll numbers suggested that, barring big changes in strategy, he would lose the election.

He still says he’ll build a wall. But maybe he won’t carry out mass deportations after all? Or something. As my colleague David Graham points out, the particulars are impossible to pin down. Trump staffers are being laughed at on television for trying to act as though their candidate still has a coherent, unchanging immigration position. Rush Limbaugh is amused by the epic betrayal of Ann Coulter, who wrote an immigration-focused book that is titled In Trump We Trust. Trump even went on Sean Hannity’s show and asked a room of voters what he should do.

It all left me with this impression:

Still, Trump is giving a “major speech on ILLEGAL IMMIGRATION Wednesday,” as if he possesses clarifying words. Why? I see why his campaign might deem the present confusion about his position unsustainable … but what “major” message on immigration would help him at this point, especially given how unlikely it will seem that he means anything that he says, whether he takes a  harder line or softens his stance?

Seeing no good options, the candidate has been trying to have it both ways—and now he is proceeding as if drawing more attention to this of all issues will help his cause. Perhaps he has figured out a move I don’t see. But this wouldn’t be the first time Trump went out of his way to say something, IN ALL CAPS, that predictably hurt him. Then again, his ethos is more entertainer than leader, so maybe that’s the explanation.

“The show must go on.”