`I don’t know. You tell me.’ How Trump stage-managed softening his immigration stance at the Moody Theater

Zachary Zenteno of Lockhart in line to see Trump at his rally in Austin Tuesday.

Good day Austin:

You gotta be flattered.

Ostensibly, Donald Trump came to Austin Tuesday to raise money and hold a rally.

But, it turns out, he really came to Austin to figure out what he really thinks about the thing we thought  he cared most deeply about – the deportation of some 11 or 12 million immigrants without legal status.

“I mean, I don’t know. You tell me,” Trump told a packed house of rabid supporters – and a few ringers – at the Moody Theater for a taping of Sean Hannity’s show on Fox Tuesday afternoon.

“It’s like a poll. There’s thousands of people in this room.”

(And of course, the obligatory self-congratulation: “This place is packed. Does everybody get this kind of a crowd?”)

And so, Trump asked the Moody audience to determine what his policy on deportation should be and, lo and behold, they seemed to agree that their hero should adopt the position previously articulated by the likes of Jeb Bush and John Kasich.


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Except, of course, Trump, reality TV star that he is, knew how to manipulate his audience to get the results he wanted.

Watching last night’s broadcast (the second of two hours produced by Trump’s two-hour interview with Hannity, an avid Trump supporter), one can see that Trump’s use of the applause-meter lacks Queen for a Day rigor.

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When he first asks whether they support his old position – that all 11 or 12 million should be deported – or his evolving position – that only criminals and gang members should be deported, but we should work something out with hard-working good illegal immigrants – it’s hard to know which position is generating the loudest hoots and applause.

But by the time he’s done repeating and reframing the question in increasingly leading ways, he get the result he wants.

Yes, Mr. Trump, we want you to moderate your position on deportation. We demand that you moderate your position on immigration.

From Mediaite:

Speaking to Sean Hannity during the Fox anchor’s second consecutive Trump town hall, which airs at 10 p.m. Wednesday, Trump wondered aloud if “someone who is terrific” who had been in the country for 20 years illegally could be given a reprieve. “Can we go through a process or do you think they have to get out?” he asked Hannity. “Tell me?  I mean, I don’t know, You tell me.

The GOP presidential candidate said that people in the country illegally could be divided into two groups.

The first group were “the bad ones, the gang bangers,” of which he said:

I mean we will get them out so fast.  You know the police know who they are.  This is no like great secret like I wonder who they are.  These police know and the people know who they are. They know who they are and they’re going to be gone like so fast your head will spin.  OK.  So that’s easy, right?

The second could be described as a “person 20 years been an upstanding person, the family is great, everyone is great.” He then took an informal voice vote of the crowd asking them to respond to one of two options:

TRUMP:  Ready?
TRUMP:  Number one, we’ll say throw out.  Number two, we work with them, ready?  Number one.
TRUMP:  Number two.

Trump said his proposal to allow some “good people” to stay after “we work with them” was not “amnesty.” He also said that there would be “no citizenship,” but they would have to pay back taxes.

But we work with them.  Now, OK, but when I look at the rooms and I have this all over, now everybody agrees we get the bad ones out.  But when I go through and I meet thousands and thousands of people on this subject, and I’ve had very strong people come up to me, really great, great people come up to me. And they’ve said, Mr. Trump, I love you, but to take a person that has been here for 15 or 20 years and throw them and the family out, it’s so tough, Mr. Trump.  I mean, I have it all the time. It’s a very, very hard thing.

And he conducted another voice poll. “Look, this is like a poll, there’s thousands of people in this room,” he said. “Who wants those people thrown out?”

“I do!” someone shouted.

Reaction was predictably harsh in some quarters.


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No, Trump told Hannity. The wall, or at least 1,000 miles of wall, will happen. And quickly. And it will be 35 to 40 feet high. And yes, Mexico is still going to pay for it. The Trump faithful chanted as much at the rally at the Travis County Expo Center a few hours later.

But, deportation? Not so much.

From John Podhoretz at Commentary:

Donald Trump is shifting to an illegal immigration policy that is a complete echo of the proposals by Jeb Bush and Marco Rubio he condemned as “amnesty” during the primaries—which by definition means he won’t be forcibly deporting 11 million people if he becomes president. Those forcible deportations were one of the few clear policy positions he’s taken, and he was screaming about them at his rallies as late as last week.

This gobsmacking flip-flop means two things. First, Trump’s brazen contempt for his own supporters is so  thoroughgoing he thinks he can say anything without risking their votes. (It will be up to them to prove him wrong by reacting with anger. If they don’t, his contempt is deserved.) Second, he has finally come to understand he is heading for a defeat so unimaginably humiliating he’s willing to do just about anything to forestall it











But don’t worry. Trump remains a border bad ass, and told the Moody audience he’s got just the type of tough hombre – who just happened to have joined him for the Hannity taping – to entrust the task to,

Just as his position is evolving, Trump’s view of Perry has evolved.


I met Zachary Zenteno, in the photo at the top, while he was waiting on the enormous line to get into the rally at the Expo Center on Tuesday. I was drawn to talk to him by his outstanding Trump shirt, which I hadn’t seen before.




The day was hot and extraordinarily bright, and I was having a hard time taking photos, seeing what I was photographing and figuring out if I was even in the right setting when I snapped the photos. If you look closely at the image at the top of First Reading you may notice at the extreme left and right of the frame, there are two women, the top of whose bodies have become disconnected from the lower half of their bodies.

I cannot explain why that is or how that happened.

Meanwhile, Zenteno, 19, from Lockhart, cast his first vote ever for Trump in the March primary and would cast his second vote ever for Trump in November

“It’s cool to have a lot of people behind you, to be part of a group who support what you support,” Zenteno said.

Zenteno said he was drawn by Trump’s personality.

“He stands for what he believes in and won’t take no crap,” Zenteno said.

Zenteno graduated from Lockhart High School in the spring of 2015. He is looking for work.

“If he makes more jobs, that’ll help me,” Zenteno said of Trump.

This was, I think, my sixth Trump rally – having previously attended two in Dallas, two in Iowa and one in South Carolina.

I have written before about the buoyant spirit at the rallies, and the likability of the people I have met at all of them.

From a First Reading after attending a Trump rally  Myrtle Beach, S.C., ahead of the South Carolina primary.

Cruz may prevail.

But in the meantime, it’s time to get used to the idea of Trump Nation.

The good new is that Trump Nation is already readily accessible because they gather with one another in the thousands with great regularity.

The further good news is that, for all the anger and frustration that undergirds his populist nationalism, Trump Nation – at least when it gets together to hear from the man – seems like a pretty happy, even rollicking place.

A Donald Trump rally is an “immersive experience.”

That was how Grant Pezikian, 18, a senior at Socastee High School in Myrtle Beach, S.C., put it to me Friday  after a massive Trump rally in his hometown on the last day of campaigning before the South Carolina primary.


Pezikian appreciates how “bold and outright” Trump is in the way he expresses himself. At his high school, he said, a lot of classmates think Trump is “too extreme.”

Moreso than for other politicians, folks tend to dress up for Trump rallies, or at any way dress in a manner that makes clear they are at a Trump rally.

And from a First Reading after a Trump rally at Gilley’s in Dallas this spring.

Since Trump became the presumptive nominee with his crushing victory over Texas Sen. Ted Cruz in the May 3 Indiana primary, Trump has worked overtime to see if he could put that nomination at risk, or at any rate, make it virtually worthless once he claimed it.

But, of course, Trump, like no presidential candidate in American history, has managed to perpetually succeed by doing one thing after another, after another, after another, that seemed dead certain to destroy him but somehow, some way, only made him stronger, or at least, strong enough.

But, that said, the last few weeks have been so bad for him that I thought he was well on his way to well and truly blowing it.

But then I went to Trump rally at Gilley’s, and he had packed house in his thrall, and he was ebullient – which, for a candidate, goes a long way to selling yourself – on what was the first anniversary of his improbable, only-in-a-really-strange-America, run for the White House.

Also, as in my previous experiences at Trump rallies, Trump crowds are more interesting – and, in that, more invigorating – than you might imagine..


While Trump is being widely mocked and derided for running for president on the fly and by the seat of his pants, with virtually no staff or infrastructure, when it comes to the rallies, there is not much to improve upon. Play the same three-song set by the Rolling Stones, Neil Young and Elton John, get some local schmoes to make some opening remarks, and then hand it over to Trump and let him do what he wants to do until he is done.

He had the 3,800 folks at Gilley’s in the palm of his hands, and even from the road reporter next to me, who probably has heard him a hundred times, he still drew intermittent, heartfelt chuckles.

In other words, he put on a good show.

The same applied to Trump’s Austin rally and the folks I met there.





Meanwhile, in an alternate political universe 2000 miles away in Burlington, Vermont, Sen. Bernie Sanders launched his new political organization – Our Revolution – with an hour-long speech that was live-streamed to supporters all across America, including here in Austin.

Among the things Our Revolution will do is back candidates.

Our Revolution will empower the next generation of progressive leaders by inspiring and recruiting progressive candidates to run for offices across the entire spectrum of government. From school boards to congressional seats, a new generation of political leaders, dedicated to transforming America’s corrupt campaign finance system and rigged economy, will become involved. Our Revolution will provide candidates inspired by the “political revolution,” with the unparalleled digital tools, organizing knowledge and grassroots support, which may include fundraising, successfully utilized throughout Senator Sanders’ campaign.

Yesterday, Our Revolution endorsed 62 candidates across the country, including two in Texas.

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And …

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Yes, that’s right, Julie Ann Nitsch, a field organizer for the Sanders campaign in Austin, and a Sanders delegate to the Democratic National Convention, where I wrote about her at First Reading.

After returning from the convention, Nitsch decided she would run for office as a trustee of Austin Community College, where she has studied and worked.

I asked Nitsch, who was hosting an Austin Bernie-watch event last night, how the endorsement by her hero came to pass.

“I don’t know, but I’m over the moon,” she replied.



Author: Jonathan Tilove

Jonathan Tilove is the Statesman's chief political writer. He was a Washington correspondent for the New Orleans Times-Picayune from 2008 to 2012. Before that he covered race and immigration issues for Newhouse News Service for 18 years.

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