After a slew of primary victories on Super Tuesday, Donald Trump held a press conference in which he gave himself some more wiggle room on the issue of deporting undocumented immigrants from this country.
Here's a transcript of the reporter's question and the GOP front-runner's answer, from West Palm Beach, Florida:
REPORTER: Would you consider allowing the people you've said you would bring back into the country, would you allow them to stay in the country, without having them leave the country first?
TRUMP: At this moment, absolutely not. We either have a country or we don't. We either have a country or we don't. We have borders or we don't have borders. And at this moment, the answer is absolutely not.
The question is clearly about mass deportation, which Trump has previously said he supported. The key difference in Trump's position and that of some of his rivals is forcing undocumented immigrants to leave immediately versus allowing them to stay and apply for some sort of legal status or citizenship. It's an important distinction because once undocumented immigrants are forced to leave the country, actually returning to the U.S. would require a very, very slow process.
Trump has said in the past that he would allow the “good ones” to re-enter the country through an “expedited process” and live in the U.S. legally -- although he has also called for a border security-first approach that would put that at a lower priority.
What is most interesting about Trump's answer, however, is the temporal qualifier "at this time," which he repeats twice. It may have been just a turn of phrase. But taken together with previous statements on the issue, it sounds as if Trump is equivocating in hopes of pivoting to a more moderate position in the general election. After all, Trump has already predicted he will win the Latino vote. What better way to begin to do so than sand off the edges from his harshest statements on immigration?
Earlier this week, the businessman said his immigration plan wasn't set in stone. Certainly, building a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border was nonnegotiable. But other details, such as the wall's height, he said, were up for grabs. And as to the issue of undocumented immigrants?
Again, his answer doesn't exactly scream hard-line.
Throughout the campaign, Trump has also suggested that he would be a changed man during the general election. When he’s been asked if he would moderate his tone and message in the general election, he has flatly said that he would.
The rhetoric may give opponents like Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) -- who opposes any undocumented immigrants returning to the country -- additional ammunition as they battle to secure the GOP presidential nomination later this summer.