Donald Trump’s flip-flops on immigration—the centerpiece of his candidacy—left his campaign visibly befuddled on Sunday about the way forward, with his most fierce advocates ducking questions about what his actual policy will be if elected to the White House.
The politician who once spoke of a “deportation force” did an about-face earlier this week when he said he believed undocumented immigrants should pay back taxes but that they should not be deported, signaling he might be open to a legal status for these individuals.
The stunning change led to criticism from his Republican cohorts, who pointed out that his statements mirrored that of a presidential candidate Trump had dismissed as “low energy”—former governor Jeb Bush.
It’s the question that will dominate the week ahead—at least until Trump delivers a full accounting of his policies. In the meantime, his surrogates and even his running mate seemed at a loss for words when asked to explain their boss’s puzzling immigration shift.
Asked about the so-called “deportation force” that Trump had promised, vice presidential candidate Mike Pence said that the idea was a “mechanism, not a policy”—as if there was a distinction between the two.
“I mean, you’re going to hear more detail in next two weeks that lays out all the policies,” Pence said on CNN’s State of the Union Sunday morning. “I think Donald Trump will articulate what we do with the people who are here... what you see going on right now—and I think, at a certain level, it’s very refreshing, because it’s the Donald Trump that I see every day—is, you see a CEO at work.”
Gov. Chris Christie, who chairs Trump’s transition team, seemed similarly unable to elucidate precisely what Trump’s policy would be in coming days.
“There’s going to be, you know, some decisions he’s going to have to make as president regarding these folks, and I think what he’s said [is] let’s first get all of the bad actors out of the country,” Christie said on ABC’s This Week.
Meanwhile, on CBS’s Face the Nation, Trump campaign manager Kellyanne Conway couldn’t answer the question of whether undocumented immigrants would need to deport themselves or whether there would be a “deportation force.”
“That’s really the question here,” Conway filibustered. “He has to deal with those agencies and those individuals already responsible for this who aren’t doing their jobs.”
Those who have supported Trump’s previous immigration stances are fed up. Mark Krikorian, who leads the anti-immigration Center for Immigration Studies, which is frequently cited by the campaign, told The Daily Beast earlier this week that he was a fan of the extensive immigration plan that Trump had put out last summer while running for the Republican nomination.
“It’s pretty detailed,” Krikorian said. “It’s just that he’s never read it.”
If Trump is going to clarify his remarks, not even the chairman of the Republican National Committee seems to know exactly when that will be.
“You’re going to find out from Trump very shortly. He’s going to be giving prepared remarks on the issue I think very soon. I don’t want to give a date,” Reince Preibus dutifully told NBC’s Chuck Todd on Meet the Press.
Todd, asking what was likely on the minds of most viewers, replied, “Let me pause right here: We don’t know? I mean that is remarkable that we don’t know.”