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November 20th, 2018

National

What one debate answer revealed about the pressure on Donald Trump

David Weigel

By David Weigel

Published March 4, 2016

The changing tenor of the Republican presidential race might have been demonstrated best by a pair of questions about immigration -- one last year, one Thursday night. In October, at the CNBC debate that became defined by Sen. Ted Cruz's, R-Texas, mockery of the questions, Donald Trump was asked simply if he was "in favor of H1Bs," visas for high-skilled labor.

"I'm in favor of people coming into this country legally," he said. "And you know what? They can have it any way you want. You can call it visas; you can call it work permits; you can call it anything you want ... as far as the visas are concerned, if we need people, they have to -- it's fine. They have to come into this country legally. We have a country of borders; we have a country of laws; we have to obey the laws. It's fine if they come in, but they have to come in legally."

There was no follow-up question. In fact, Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Florida, quickly said that Trump was right.

Thursday night, Fox News's Megyn Kelly invoked the CNBC answer to ask whether Trump had vacillated. "Your campaign website to this day argues that more visas for highly skilled workers would, quote, 'decimate American workers,'" she said. "However, at the CNBC debate, you spoke enthusiastically in favor of these visas. So, which is it?"

Trump bit right into the question. "I'm changing. I'm changing," he said. "We need highly skilled people in this country, and if we can't do it, we'll get them in."

Kelly followed up: "So you're abandoning the position on your website?"

"I'm changing it," said Trump, "and I'm softening the position because we have to have talented people in this country."

Immediately, this was covered as a fresh position change from Trump. It was not, really. But under pressure, which did not exist in October, he adopted the frame -- that he was "changing." Cruz, who had no interest in attacking Trump until last winter, quickly turned the answer into an attack on "the hotel that Donald owns down in Florida."

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