Donald Trump this week revealed a major policy proposal on illegal immigration, an issue of great concern to Republican primary voters. It’s an issue which has long resisted political resolution, to the frustration of most Americans. Trump’s plan lays out three self-evident core principles: a nation without borders is not a nation; a nation without laws is not a nation; and a nation that does not serve its citizens is not a nation. Yet some of the plan’s key components — a wall along the Mexican border, paid for by the Mexicans; an end to birthright citizenship; and mass deportations of those in the country illegally and their children (including those who have been granted legal status by President’s Obama’s executive amnesty) — seem to many observers (myself included) to be unrealistic, unconstitutional, and unthinkable, in that order. Trump is many things, but stupid is not among them. So what’s going on?
My theory: Trump’s plan isn’t so much a position paper as it is an opening offer. Governor Chris Christie scolded Trump this week, telling CNN, “This is not the negotiation of a real estate deal, OK?” He’s right that the stakes are much higher, a point Trump would undoubtedly concede. What Christie misses is that Trump’s whole campaign is a negotiation — with his fellow candidates, with the Republican Party, with the American people — all aimed at closing the deal to “make American great again.” He’s frustrated by a political system that makes bad deals, or no deals at all. Aren’t we all?
Does Trump really want to order mass deportations of long-term residents who entered illegally, and their children who have legal status? I doubt it. But a good negotiator always asks for something he is willing to concede, and if nothing else, Trump is a good negotiator. Whether this master of the “art of the deal” will succeed remains to be seen. Remember, one of Trump’s most important rules of negotiating is “be prepared to walk away.”