Last week Donald Trump pulled a switcheroo: Instead of insulting blacks and Mexicans — as he usually does — he reached out to them, sort of. First he went to Mexico to meet President Peña Nieto, who told him to forget about Mexico paying for the wall, which Trump said was bullshit. So far, so good! Then Trump went to Arizona to give an incoherent speech on immigration. Later, he continued his minority outreach tour in Detroit, where he attended a black church service and mouthed fifteen minutes of palaver that was not offensive, a new Trump record.
Who knows what blacks and Mexicans thought, but rightbloggers loved it. The fact that Trump appeared on the same stage as the Mexican president, they claimed, made him presidential, too. And look! He actually talked to black people — now if they don’t vote for him it’s their fault, not his.
After the Mexican trip, the Washington Examiner put on a full-court press for Trump, with columnist Byron York calling the visit a “very big win” for Trump.
“Trump came out of the meeting looking very much like a potential President of the United States,” gushed York. “Standing beside the Mexican leader in front of a green-gray granite wall reminiscent of the United Nations, Trump presented the picture of a statesman.” I assume by this York meant Trump handed Nieto a drawing of George Washington.
In case the punters weren’t going for it, York added this: “Before the meeting, some in the Trump circle saw a win virtually no matter what happened. ‘It’s a great gesture,’ another adviser said.” See? To paraphrase Michael Gerson, it’s soft bigotry and it’s diminished expectations.
Elsewhere at the Examiner, W. James Antle III described Trump’s trip as “controversial but largely successful” and found a marvelous euphemism for Trump’s changeable immigration policies: “charting his own immigration path in a tough electoral environment.” His colleague Ashe Schow praised Trump for taking a “page out of the Left’s playbook by attempting to tug at the audience’s heartstrings” — that is, he introduced relatives of Americans killed by Mexicans and invited his audience to hate immigrants because of them. See, conservatives can be sentimental, too.
“Did Trump Transform the Election?” gasped Jonathan S. Tobin at Commentary. Tobin conceded that “the two parts of his Wednesday adventure contradicted each other,” but said that didn’t matter because Trump managed to “transfix the nation in the same way that his various stunts and outrageous statements monopolized press attention during the Republican primaries.”
In other words, to paraphrase the old Jewish joke, you know it’s bullshit, I know it’s bullshit — but business is business.
Perhaps the most interesting batch of responses came from National Review; once #NeverTrump Central, the movement flagship gave Trump glowing reviews.
“[Trump’s] best political moment since the GOP convention,” gushed Rich Lowry (editor of the NR NeverTrump special edition!). “The trip carried risks for Trump — Peña Nieto easily could have embarrassed him — but it paid off.” As for the speech, “the policy was unassailable,” said Lowry in another post, “…a comprehensive and coherent enforcement-first agenda.”
“Considering how one of the core arguments from the Clinton campaign is that Trump is an unhinged ignoramus who will embarrass the country overseas, Trump played against low expectations today and earned praise from some unexpected corners,” nodded Lowry’s colleague Jim Geraghty. (Example: “Today’s ‘soft’ Trump has a better chance in the general election” — Bill “The Prophet” Kristol.)
Even Never Trump holdout (and onetime proposed presidential opponent) David French allowed as to how Trump’s border message had “the core of a sensible, responsible immigration policy,” “turns on a few simple and sound concepts,” etc.
The only problem French could name was that “everything about the tone and flourishes of [Trump’s] speech last night seemed calculated to repel,” and if Trump’s tone kept him from winning “a winnable race” (!), it would cause “grave damage to the conservative case for immigration policies that protect and maintain American liberty, security, and prosperity.”
“Trump’s speech was rock-solid on policy,” Rich Lowry agreed. He even half cheered Trump’s trademark belligerence, because it “occasioned wailing and rending of garments among the commentariat and ‘respectable’ people everywhere,” thereby showing that “Trump believes in immigration laws, and the country’s elite really doesn’t.” And Lowry saw the same downside as French: “such a tough-minded agenda…needs to be presented with a deft touch… If Trump loses, this agenda will be discredited, and restrictionists will instantly be as embattled as ever…”
In other words, it’s just a style problem. This is a clever straddle for French and Lowry. If Trump takes off, they can continue giving him Strange New Respect; if he loses, they can just say he was a flawed messenger and next time the GOP should take their advice and nominate a more easygoing, people-person candidate…like Ted Cruz.
Next, Trump went to a black church in Detroit and briefly addressed the crowd, correctly quoting a sentence-long Bible passage, which his supporters counted a great achievement (“Trump atones for ‘Two Corinthians’ gaffe in a BIG way in Detroit, and Christians will be pleased”). He also went to Ben Carson’s old neighborhood and shook some hands.
Again, rightbloggers graded Trump on the curve. Talk radio shouter Bill Mitchell tweeted a picture of Trump talking to his African-American hosts and commented, “You notice how close Trump stands to this black man as he listens to him? No racist would ever do that.”
There were also the traditional accusations of media bias (“Video taken at the service of Trump dancing puts the lie to Riley’s racist comment that Trump was ‘watching Omarosa to see when to clap’ “) and claims that by eventually cutting away from the ceremony the MSM was trying to “kill positive Trump footage.”
At breitbart.com, Matthew Boyle’s long, Soviet-style dispatch declared, “THE DONALD HAS BECOME ‘THE HOPE CANDIDATE.’ ” Apparently Trump mentioned “new hope” at the church service, which Boyle found significant because Barack Obama had campaigned on hope and change, but “many believe he has failed, and has become one of the most divisive presidents along party lines in history, alienating millions of Americans who don’t support his agenda.” Also, Boyle reported, in Detroit many bystanders “seemed supportive of what Trump is doing,” though he only quoted Trump functionaries such as “Trump’s national spokeswoman Katrina Pierson, who is also black.”
So, what did any of this achieve for or against Trump? Maybe it helped ease the minds of some white people who are embarrassed by Trump’s racial rhetoric — like, for example, the months he spent in 2011 loudly insisting President Obama was from Kenya, or his famous statements about Mexicans rapists. But how many Trump supporters are actually embarrassed by that, rather than delighted by his piquant “political incorrectness”?
More likely it was meant to throw the press off the scent. There’s no further need to write about Trump’s troubled relationship with the blacks and the browns — that’s all been covered. Now reporters can write about, say, Hillary Clinton’s problems with minority voters, instead. Much more newsy!
Remember, folks: You can’t have a horse race without horseshit.