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Week In Politics: Trump Shifts On Immigration Policy


Joining us now to talk about this and the rest of the week in politics are our regular weekly commentators, E.J. Dionne of The Washington Post and Brookings Institution and David Brooks of The New York Times. Hello, you two.


E J DIONNE, BYLINE: Good to be with you.

MCEVERS: So we just heard about what sounds like a change of policy for Donald Trump on his signature issue, immigration. But then again, no one is completely sure. Let's talk about the fallout if he is indeed softening his stance on this. We've already seen people on the right - Sarah Palin, Rush Limbaugh, Ann Coulter - criticizing Trump about this. We heard some of that at the end of Scott's piece there. I guess the big question is by trying to expand his base to include more moderate Republicans with this softer stance, does Trump stand to lose people in his original base, the people who voted for him in the primary in the first place? David?

BROOKS: Well, first of all, I don't think this is a policy flip-flop or an ideological struggle. I think it's an attention span issue. He just is someone who responds moment by moment to what happens to leap into his mind, and then he has flights of ideas that go wherever they think. The only thing he's really been consistent on is his self-love. And so I think we're going to see this as different crowds react different ways. I wouldn't read too much into it, though, as sort of some strategic ideological position. And I don't think it'll particularly help him one way or another. I think his appeal to people is based on a much deeper sense of protest, not because he's ideologically rigorous.

MCEVERS: But as you move back and forth from one to the other, I mean, don't you alienate people in each camp, E.J.?

DIONNE: Well, I think he is. He's already alienated people on the other side of his old position on immigration. My favorite comment - somebody on Twitter said that there will be a new Trump product in honor of his immigration meanderings this week. It'll be Trump Jell-O because that's what it's felt like all week. And yes, he - you know what? He threatens to lose our elites, if you will - right-wing elites, anti-immigration elites, anti-legalization elites. And you heard that in Scott's piece. That might have some filtering down effect.

What it feels like is Trump is - the guy who's supposed to be the anti-politician is being a very cynical politician and assuming that his own base will be with him no matter what and figure that he's really on their side. And so he'll send out some softer sounds to try to get those moderate voters. It does show how much trouble he is in with Republican moderates. He clearly has not rallied the Republican vote the way a nominee needs to.

MCEVERS: What do you guys think is next? He'll decide that we don't need to build the wall?

DIONNE: No, the wall he can't get rid of. I think the wall is the one constant. It's solid (laughter).

MCEVERS: There's some continuity there. Also, this week there was a lot of back-and-forth between Donald Trump and his opponent, Hillary Clinton, of course, over who is the bigger racist. Let's take a listen to some of that.


DONALD TRUMP: Hillary Clinton is a bigot who sees people of color only as votes, not as human beings worthy of a better future. She's going to do nothing for African-Americans. She's going to do nothing for the Hispanics.


HILLARY CLINTON: Donald Trump has built his campaign on prejudice and paranoia. He is taking hate groups mainstream.


TRUMP: You're racist. You're racist. You're racist. They keep saying it - you're racist. It's a tired, disgusting argument.

MCEVERS: I mean, is Donald Trump right there? Is this - I mean, what is this argument really about?

BROOKS: Well, I think this is, again, an issue of impulse control. Why does he want to go on this subject of racism and ethnic bigotry? This is to be fair - I'm trying to be fair to Donald Trump. This is a guy who, after San Bernardino, really built his campaign on saying we should ban all Muslims from coming into this country. That was the first burst for Donald Trump. And that's taking the actions of a lone individual and ascribing it to a group. And that's called bigotry.

And so there is some seed there that he has stirred up. I don't think he - I don't know what's in his heart at all, but that seed is there. His campaign manager comes from an organization which is notorious for racially charged articles. And so that's just a piece of who he has been.

MCEVERS: What do these candidates gain, though, from saying that the other one is the racist, E.J.?

DIONNE: Well, I think, you know, you pick a charge against an opponent that actually has merit, that voters can identify with. I mean, you know, accusing Hillary Clinton of being a racist or a bigot is like accusing Donald Trump of having great taste and too much self-restraint. You know, I mean, it just doesn't wash with most voters. And as David suggested, it got him totally off an attack that actually had some possibility. You know, he was going after Hillary Clinton on emails and on the foundation. And whatever you think of those issues - and we'll probably talk about them - they are certainly more promising than attacking her as a bigot.

But I think Hillary Clinton did a very important thing this week in going after the alt-right, as it's known, which is, you know, a new new right that is white nationalist, racist or racialist. And what she did there is she was very careful to say this is not conservatism as we have known it or republicanism as we have known it. She could've gone in a different direction and say the Republicans and conservatives sowed the seeds of this. She is really trying to open the doors wide and say Republicans, I can save you from Trump. You got to vote for me this time because you don't want your party to go down that road. And I thought that was a very important

DIONNE: Republicans, I can save you from Trump. You got to vote for me this time because you don't want your party to go down that road. And I thought that was a very important indicator of where she's going to go for the rest of the campaign.

MCEVERS: Interesting. We did not hear - after Hillary Clinton spoke about the alt-right, there was silence from Republicans not responding to her, not coming in anyone's defense there.

BROOKS: Yeah. And I would say, among my friends in the Republican Party, they're already having the discussion of what do we do after Trump? When do we have the argument? What is the reaction? And one of the things - it's become clear to a lot of people - it's politically unsustainable and slightly immoral to have an all-White party. And so something big has to be reconsidered in that light.

MCEVERS: This week, emails obtained and released by the conservative group Judicial Watch showed that a top Clinton Foundation official contacted the State Department to lobby for a meeting between the crown prince of Bahrain and then Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. This was in 2009.

In the email, the foundation official called the prince a good friend of ours. The prince, of course, had donated tens of thousands of dollars to the Clinton Foundation. And this meeting eventually did take place. I know that Hillary Clinton has talked about high walls between the foundation and the State Department, but it does sound like they were working pretty closely together.

DIONNE: You know, I think the prince ended up getting the meeting through normal channels. It just shows how complicated this foundation is for the Clinton. There's been no fire here. There's just been smoke. But I think we've talked about this before.

Ultimately, they're going to have to find a way to push the foundation aside if she's elected president so, you know, we don't keep talking about these stories. Because even if nothing actionable is ever found, these are a terrible distraction for her.


BROOKS: I would say there's a perpetual brittleness to her reaction, which is untrustworthy. Even having the private server, the way the information continues to drop out. All Clinton scandals are the same, where they just do not release information at the pace they really should.

And this is a hard lesson for all of us to learn, but sometimes you just have to get the information out there.

MCEVERS: That's David Brooks of The New York Times and E.J. Dionne of The Washington Post. Thanks to both of you.

DIONNE: Good to be with you.

BROOKS: Good to be with you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.