Conservative talk radio has long been an influential bastion of anti-immigrant sentiment. When Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) backed a bipartisan effort to pass comprehensive immigration reform in 2013, prominent talk show hosts lashed out at the GOP darling, calling him a sell-out and pressuring him to reverse his position.
But mere hours after Donald Trump appeared to walk back his stance on immigration ― the GOP nominee’s signature issue ― in favor of a plan for granting undocumented immigrants legal status, prominent voices in the conservative talk show circuit responded with hardly more than a shrug.
“Is Donald Trump now Jeb Bush? I don’t think most people think that,” Laura Ingraham said Wednesday on her radio show, referring to the former Florida governor’s immigration plan that included giving undocumented immigrants legal status. “They did make a mess of this immigration rollout or whatever it is they’re rolling out,” Ingraham added, but the “reason it’s a problem is not because his supporters will leave him, but that actually it takes the heat off of Hillary [Clinton].”
No matter what Trump did, Ingraham argued, a Clinton administration and a liberal Supreme Court would be far worse for the country due to a “wholesale remaking of America.”
Radio host Hugh Hewitt agreed. The conservative commentator pushed back against the notion from Republicans opposed to Trump that the GOP nominee would abandon his promise to appoint conservative justices to the highest court in the land.
“You don’t have to trust Trump 100 percent,” he said, “you can trust him to be less bad than Hillary Clinton.” If Trump nominates a justice that is unpalatable to conservatives, Hewitt added on his show, Republicans “will vote to block his nominee. It is that simple.”
But the person who enjoyed Trump’s latest rhetorical gymnastics was none other than Rush Limbaugh, who opened his show Wednesday with an uncontrollable laughing fit. Struggling to speak as he wiped tears from his face, the conservative talk show host gleefully described how the Manhattan real estate mogul had managed to confound the establishment once again.
“Can you imagine what it must be like to be Jeb Bush today?” he asked. “They tried Jeb Bush, they tried Marco Rubio, they tried Ted Cruz. Who knew it would be Donald Trump to be the one to convince the GOP base to support amnesty?”
Limbaugh then enjoyed another hearty laugh over the predicament Trump super-fan Ann Coulter finds herself in. The conservative commentator and columnist held a book launch party to celebrate her new publication In Trump We Trust on the very same evening that Trump’s grand walk-back aired on Fox News with host Sean Hannity.
”Will this cause a problem with Trump supporters?” Limbaugh asked. “I’ve done an informal survey here, and apparently it won’t. Maybe Coulter.”
Limbaugh maintained that Trump fans would stick with their man because he does the unexpected. In this case: polling Hannity’s audience on whether he should deport 11 million undocumented immigrants out of the country.
“Trump is outside the normal parameters of politics. What happened last night, as far as Trump-ers are concerned, is no big deal,” he said. “This is all about not being scripted. Who cares if Trump asked the crowd ― we like that. That’s refreshing, they say.”
He appeared to be right.
On Thursday, Coulter, who regularly bashes immigrants, said she was still on board the Trump Train.
“It mostly worries me rhetorically ... I mean, what to do with the illegals already here was never really a big part of it,” she told the Washington Examiner. “We’re getting a wall. We’re definitely getting a wall. That’s the one thing we know about a Trump presidency.”
“I don’t think it is a change in policy,” she added of Trump. “The policy is anyone who’s here illegally is here illegally, does not have the right to be here. We’ll decide whether it’s in our interest to let them stay or not. Perhaps it is in our interest to let some of them stay.”
Editor’s note: Donald Trump regularly incites political violence and is a serial liar, rampant xenophobe, racist, misogynist and birther who has repeatedly pledged to ban all Muslims — 1.6 billion members of an entire religion — from entering the U.S.