Donald Trump and his top aides can justifiably be satisfied with his stunningly successful trip to Mexico. At the same time, Trump has continued to sow confusion about his stand on immigration -- not his overall position but specifically about his intentions regarding the 12 million immigrants who are in this country illegally. Will he soften his stance on deportations?
The text of Trump's speech Wednesday in Arizona suggested there has indeed been a softening of Trump's original deport-them-all approach. But it sure didn't sound like softening. And the change -- Trump will allow millions of illegal immigrants to stay in the country and reconsider their status only after new security measure are put in place -- was announced in a confusing way that left even fair-minded listeners unsure of what Trump was proposing.
Then, after nearly two weeks of suggesting first that there would be softening in his proposal, and then that there would not be softening, on the morning after the speech, Trump told radio host Laura Ingraham that there would, in fact, be "quite a bit of softening" in his approach.
"Oh, there's softening," Trump said. "Look, we do it in a very humane way, and we're going to see with the people that are in the country. Obviously I want to get the gang members out, the drug peddlers out, I want to get the drug dealers out. We've got a lot of people in this country that you can't have, and those people we'll get out. And then we're going to make a decision at a later date once everything is stabilized. I think you're going to see there's really quite a bit of softening."
If that is indeed Trump's new approach, it is in line with voter sentiment revealed in a Fox News Poll released at nearly the same moment he took the stage in Arizona. The Fox findings suggest that if Trump were to actually soften his position on deportations, he would strengthen his standing not only with the independent voters whose support he is seeking, but with the voters whose support he already has.
First, Fox asked, "What do you think should happen to the illegal immigrants who are currently working in the United States -- do you favor deporting as many as possible or do you favor setting up a system for them to become legal residents?" Just 19 percent said deport as many as possible, while 77 percent said set up a system to become legal residents.
That 19 percent is the lowest point -- so far -- in a decline that has been going on for several years. When Fox asked the same question in 2010, 45 percent said deport as many as possible. Last year, in July 2015, 30 percent gave that answer. That fell to 27 percent in January of this year, and 19 percent now.
Trump is not singlehandedly turning people against deportation -- the downward trend began before he ran for president -- but he doesn't seem to be doing his cause much good, either.
The 77 percent who favor setting up a system for illegal immigrants to become legal residents represent a broad consensus. Sixty-six percent of Republicans favor setting up such a system; 76 percent of independents and 87 percent of Democrats agree.
Seventy-five percent of men favor a system for illegal immigrants to become legal residents, as do 79 percent of women. Seventy-four percent of whites and 87 percent of non-whites agree.
Sixty-nine percent of the much-discussed whites without a college degree favor a system, as do 80 percent of whites with a college degree. All age groups favor it by huge margins, as do people who make less than $50,000 a year and those who make more than $50,000 a year. Sixty-nine percent of conservatives favor a legalization system, as do 88 percent of liberals.
Then Fox asked specifically about Trump: "If Donald Trump were to soften his position on handling illegal immigrants living in the United States, would you be more or less likely to vote for him?" (One could argue that the question was leading, but on the other hand, Trump had used the word "softening" himself, and it is reasonable to ask voters about a candidate's own statements.)
Here's the interesting thing. Among people who don't support Trump, 27 percent said a softening would make them more likely to support him. Thirty-four percent said it would make them less likely -- that is probably the group that would not like anything Trump did. (Thirty-six percent said it wouldn't matter.)
Among people who already support Trump, 48 percent said a softer position on immigration would make them more likely to vote for him, while just 15 percent said it would make them less likely to vote for him. (Again 36 percent said it didn't matter.) In other words, the vast majority of Trump's voters would like to see him soften his position or at least wouldn't mind it if he did.
The poll suggests that Trump could loosen up a little and help himself with his own voters, as well as the more moderate voters he's hoping to attract.
Forty-one percent of men said a softening would make them more likely to vote for Trump, as did 31 percent of women. Thirty-eight percent of whites said the same thing, as well as 29 percent of non-whites. (Again the lower numbers for women and non-whites are probably due to the fact that relatively fewer of them would support Trump under any circumstances.)
Forty-five percent of voters under the age of 35 said a softening would make them more likely to support Trump, as well as 39 percent of voters age 35 to 54. Forty-three percent of evangelicals would also welcome a softening.
So that's why Trump is pledging a softening, even if he hasn't made it perfectly clear. It's what a lot of voters want to see.