Donald Trump is not supposed to be like other politicians. He’s refreshing. He’s not beholden to anyone. He tells it like it is.
This is wrong. He is the worst kind of politician. He is megalomaniacal phony. He will say anything to anybody to satisfy his thirst for power and attention.
No politician is immune to the occasional flip-flop. But Trump’s method is to flip-flop so colossally, clumsily and transparently that it seems charming. You can then tell yourself what he really believes is what you believe.
Trump’s phoniness was at its most appalling with the David Duke affair. He “disavowed” Duke on a Friday. He danced around the question on a Sunday. Then he returned to disavowals after that.
But it only took one nod in Duke’s direction for Duke to tell Trump, “do whatever you need to do to get elected,” and signal to his followers that Trump is on their team. Meanwhile, Trump can spend the rest of campaign clearing the low bar of rejecting the KKK, racist votes already in hand.
Trump is now employing this strategy when it comes to immigration. He has successfully secured the anti-immigrant vote by promising to build a border wall and banning all Muslim immigrants “temporarily,” but he still needs funds from the pro-immigrant Republican donor class or else he can’t compete in a general election. (The estimated cost of a general election campaign is up to $1.5-$2.5 billion. The “billionaire” Trump has liquid cash assets of only around $300 million.)
So he needs to send some contradictory signals.
Trump was asked at last night’s debate: “Your campaign website to this day argues that more visas for highly skilled workers would, quote, ‘decimate American workers.’ However, at the CNBC debate, you spoke enthusiastically in favor of these visas. So, which is it?”
Trump bluntly said the latter: “I’m changing. I’m changing. We need highly skilled people in this country, and if we can’t do it, we’ll get them in. But, and we do need in Silicon Valley … to be able to keep the brain power in this country. … I’m changing it, and I’m softening the position because we have to have talented people in this country.”
Yet minutes after the debate, he flipped again, back to the original position, saying he absolutely will crack down on the visa program, adding a wrinkle to bridge his statements: “The H-1B program is neither high-skilled nor immigration: these are temporary foreign workers, imported from abroad … I will end forever the use of the H-1B as a cheap labor program, and institute an absolute requirement to hire American workers first for every visa and immigration program.”
But that’s not what he says about H-1Bs on his website. He makes no mention of H-1Bs being used for temporary, low-skill labor, saying instead, “We graduate two times more Americans with STEM degrees each year than find STEM jobs, yet as much as two-thirds of entry-level hiring for IT jobs is accomplished through the H-1B program.”
Furthermore, Trump’s website continues to suggest he opposes raising the cap on visas issued: “Mark Zuckerberg’s personal Senator, Marco Rubio, has a bill to triple H-1Bs that would decimate women and minorities.” His debate comments suggest he disagrees, but doesn’t say so outright. His post-debate statement doesn’t clarify, making no mention of the cap issue. Classic “all things to all people” politicking.
Maybe Trump wouldn’t be as awful as some of his rhetoric suggests. Maybe he would. What we do know is he is willing to say absolutely anything in order to get elected, even if it means legitimizing bigotry and threatening our national unity.
Everyone running for president is a politician. Trump is the most odious breed.