In a quiet shift from his December call to ban Muslims from entering the United States (which I covered and responded to here), Donald Trump now is looking at immigrants' countries of provenance. He has so far revealed this change at three times.
1. A CBS News interview with him and his vice presidential candidate Mike Pence. I provide the full discussion here because the conversation is scattered and difficult to excerpt:
Lesley Stahl: Let's talk about—some of the issues. Because there seems to be some daylight between you two, and we can just tick—go quickly through these. Immigration. Mr. Trump, you have called for a temporary ban on Muslims entering the United States. Do you agree with that?
Mike Pence: I do. In fact, in Indiana we suspended the Syrian refugee program in the wake of the terrorist attack. We have no higher priority than the safety and security of the people of this country, and Donald Trump—
MP: --is right to—
LS: --in December—
MP: --articulate that view.
LS: --in December you tweeted, and I quote you, "Calls to ban Muslims from entering the U.S. are offensive and unconstitutional."
Donald Trump: So you call it territories. OK? We're gonna do territories. We're gonna not let people come in from Syria that nobody knows who they are. Hillary Clinton wants 550 percent more people to come in than Obama—
LS: So you—
DT: --who doesn't know what he's—
LS: --so you're changing—
DT: --so we're going to—
LS: --your position.
DT: --no, I—call it whatever you want. We'll call it territories, OK?
LS: So not Muslims?
DT: You know—the Constitution—there's nothing like it. But it doesn't necessarily give us the right to commit suicide, as a country, OK? And I'll tell you this. Call it whatever you want, change territories, but there are territories and terror states and terror nations that we're not gonna allow the people to come into our country. And we're gonna have a thing called "Extreme vetting." And if people wanna come in, there's gonna be extreme vetting. We're gonna have extreme vetting. They're gonna come in and we're gonna know where they came from and who they are.
2. A clearer, more succinct version of the above emerged in Trump's speech accepting the Republican Party nomination on July 21:
We must immediately suspend immigration from any nation that has been compromised by terrorism until such time as proven vetting mechanisms have been put in place. We don't want them in our country.
3. In his first post-nomination interview on July 24 with NBC's Meet the Press, Trump expanded on the terse formulation in his acceptance speech. The following transcript has been edited to eliminate some cross-talk and make the conversation easier to follow:
Chuck Todd: The Muslim ban. I think you've pulled back from it, but you tell me.
(BEGIN TAPE OF THE ACCEPTANCE SPEECH)
Donald Trump: We must immediately suspend immigration from any nation that has been compromised by terrorism until such time as proven vetting mechanisms have been put in place.
CT: This feels like a slight rollback.
DT: I don't think so. I actually don't think it's a rollback. In fact, you could say it's an expansion. I'm looking now at territories. People were so upset when I used the word Muslim. Oh, you can't use the word Muslim. Remember this. And I'm okay with that, because I'm talking territory instead of Muslim.
But just remember this: Our Constitution is great. But it doesn't necessarily give us the right to commit suicide, okay? Now, we have a religious, you know, everybody wants to be protected. And that's great. And that's the wonderful part of our Constitution. I view it differently.
Why are we committing suicide? Why are we doing that? But you know what? I live with our Constitution. I love our Constitution. I cherish our Constitution. We're making it territorial. We have nations and we'll come out, I'm going to be coming out over the next few weeks with a number of the places. And it's very complex: we have problems in Germany and we have problems with France. So it's not just the countries with [DP: it appears Trump was going to say "a Muslim majority" but he was interrupted and did not finish the sentence].
CT: They've been compromised by terrorism.
DT: They have totally been. And you know why? It's their own fault. Because they allowed people to come into their territory. ...
CT: You could get to the point where you're not allowing a lot of people to come into this country from a lot of places.
DT: Maybe we get to that point. Chuck, look what's happening. Look at what just took place in Afghanistan, where they blow up a whole shopping center with people, they have no idea how many people were even killed. Happened today. So we have to be smart and we have to be vigilant and we have to be strong. We can't be the stupid people. Here's my plan, here is what I want: Extreme vetting. Tough word. Extreme vetting.
CT: What does that look like?
DT: Tough. We're going to have tough standards. And if a person can't prove that they're from an area, and if a person can't prove what they have to be able to prove, they're not coming into this country.
Summarizing Trump's new policy proposal: Citizens of any country which suffers from Islamist political violence (he seems unconcerned with other forms of violence) who wish to enter the United States will undergo a process of "extreme vetting" that place the burden of proof on the would-be visitor or immigrant. The countries in question include not just those with Muslim-majorities but also those (like Germany and France) which have unwisely allowed in (Muslim) populations who engage in political violence.
What this means in practice is anyone's guess. Terms like "compromised by terrorism" or "terror states and terror nations" lack definition. Do a certain number of terror acts or a certain number of deaths compromise a nation? Does he distinguish between countries whose governments foment terrorism (e.g., Iran) and those that suffer from it (e.g., Israel)?
- Trump has completely abandoned his call for "a total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States" of December 2015. The new focus on "any nation that has been compromised by terrorism" avoids any mention of religion. Religious vetting has been replaced with "extreme vetting" of citizens from "terror states and terror nations."
- Todd is correct; regardless of Trump's denial, this is an obvious rollback. Trump famously ignores critics and goes his own way, but even he buckled under seven months of sustained attacks on his ban-Muslims policy.
- This is not a shock, for Trump had signaled that his policy ideas are entirely flexible. He explained in May: "Look, anything I say right now – I'm not the president – everything is a suggestion. No matter what you say, it is a suggestion." So, ignore his vociferous statements, which at any moment might abruptly change.
- Although Trump refers to suspending "immigration," meaning not allowing people coming to the United States to settle, the context of his December statement call for a "shutdown of Muslims entering the United States" suggests he means also to include visitors.
- If "compromised by terrorism" means "has endured acts of Islamist political violence," then most countries of the world (including the United States itself) fit this category. In effect, then, Trump is saying that visitors and immigrants as a whole should be excluded, save from a few fortunate countries like Iceland and Costa Rica.