Why Trump's Speech On Immigration Gave Me Whiplash

Photo: Courtesy of Bettina Inclan.
Bettina Inclan working on Mitt Romney's 2012 campaign.
Whiplash. It's the only word that comes to mind when I think about how I felt watching the two competing — and starkly different — speeches Donald Trump delivered on both sides of the U.S.-Mexico border yesterday.

Trump started Wednesday as one of the best days of his campaign. Talking heads on cable news, including myself, were praising his bold decision to accept Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto’s invitation to meet with him in Mexico.

Standing side by side with the Mexican president, Trump looked presidential. He was respectful in recognizing the positive contributions Mexican-Americans have made to the United States (something I appreciated as a daughter of a Mexican immigrant). He delivered thoughtful remarks laying out a new hemisphere-centric philosophy and promising to strengthen our bilateral relationship to confront common challenges. Like many, I felt Trump’s Mexico speech was a powerful way to crush questions on his temperament and reduce voter concerns.
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As the press conference concluded, Trump's Mexican gamble seemed to be paying off: Voters like me started to feel optimistic and hopeful that this signaled a new direction on immigration that was fair and firm. His visit to Mexico was helping Trump finally move past last week’s difficulties when he vacillated on what he has made his signature issue. As his speech approached that evening, I thought he was going to give much-needed clarity on his positions on enforcement and how to deal with the 11 million people currently living illegally in the U.S. What to do with the undocumented population already here is an issue too many politicians have either failed to successfully address or avoided completely.

The first cracks in the wall (pun intended), however, appeared soon after both men left the podium. In a tweet, Peña Nieto said he made it clear to Trump that Mexico will never pay for his proposed wall. Trump has continued to insist that Mexico would pay 100%.
As the sun set on Trumpland and the candidate took the stage in Arizona, it was like a dark cloud had rolled in on the once-hopeful day. In Phoenix, the same old Trump came out roaring with such vengeance, it was hard to tell if I was watching a live speech or a rerun from the primaries.

Trump aggressively laid out a 10-point immigration plan, which focused on enforcement and targeting undocumented immigrants for deportation. Trump's rhetoric was nationalism on steroids, and it quickly became clear that there would be no Trump pivot today, or likely ever.

Let’s pretend for a second that I can ignore Trump’s word choices and tone, and focus exclusively on the actual policy positions. Trump made some valid points, including the need to deport violent criminals, address visa overstays, secure our borders, and protect our national security.

But tone and rhetoric matter. Words matter. The GOP's nominee used his hour-long speech to vilify undocumented immigrants, launch false attacks, and make unrealistic policy proposals. Trump essentially hung all the evils of society — murder, crime, drugs — around the necks of undocumented immigrants. He used his entire speech to create an "us versus them" narrative.

Trump essentially hung all the evils of society — murder, crime, drugs — around the necks of undocumented immigrants.

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This was not a speech that I would have written for Trump, especially not less than 70 days before Election Day. This was not a speech that contained reasonable, practical, or compassionate proposals for immigration reform. This was not a speech that highlighted the endless positive contributions of immigrants to America. This was not a speech that helped Trump expand his dwindling base and win and influence undecided voters.

Trump leaves people like me, a Latina Republican, who want to expand the GOP base and win national elections, with little to work with. I’m left with more questions than answers, scratching my head as I try to imagine what went on inside his campaign when they wrote this speech.
Photo: Carlos Tischler/REX/Shutterstock.
Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto and GOP presidential nominee Donald Trump met in Mexico on Wednesday.
Pro-Trump Republicans should be worried that Hillary Clinton's campaign will have an easy time picking off-the-wall sound bites from that speech to feature in their attack ads. This is in spite of the fact that Clinton has done little to substantively address illegal immigration herself. In my view, Clinton has a long history of flip-flopping on the issue, too.

Clinton supported the Secure Fence Act of 2006, which allowed the U.S. to build a 700-mile fence across the border. A decade later, she's hypocritically attacking Trump for wanting one. In 2014, she initially advocated for sending Central American children escaping violence back to their home countries. Trump could use these facts against Clinton, but his own unrealistic stance weakens him.

Immigration is an incredibly complicated topic that impacts every sector of our society. There are no easy fixes or quick solutions. It is for that reason Congress has not passed reform in over 30 years.

While many questions remain, Trump did provide insights on his policy, and it is now up to the American people to support or reject his views. Frankly, we need more from both candidates on exactly how they will address all aspects of immigration reform and what they plan to do with the 11 million undocumented people who are already here.

Neither should be off the hook. American voters should be able to compare their proposals side by side and make a decision for themselves on what is best for our nation.

In the meantime, I'm sure I'm not the only one needing a good neck massage after Trump's whiplash-inducing comments.

Bettina Inclán is a Republican communications and political strategist. The views expressed here are her own.

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