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Kellyanne Conway shows how you can take a long time to say very little

On the same interview show, the Democratic National Committee’s Donna Brazile does a pretty good job of doing it too.

Donald Trump’s campaign manager Kellyanne Conway
REUTERS/Carlo Allegri

Either we, the American people, are basically suckers, or a great many of those in the business of extracting our votes from us (without really telling us what they will do with them) believe that we are.

I spent last week hiking in the Zion and Bryce Canyon National Parks in Utah. It was beautiful and it almost – almost – cleared my brain. Yesterday, on my first day back, I tuned into “Face the Nation” to start catching up on what I had missed in the presidential race.

In the first segment, moderator John Dickerson offered Donald Trump’s new campaign manager, Kellyanne Conway, an opportunity to clear up or clean up the latest mess Trump created on his plan, or former plan, or modified new plan, to deal with the estimated 11 million immigrants living in the United States who entered the country illegally.

Below, I will post the entire exchange so you can decide for yourself whether she answered the question. It’s kind of a fun exercise in a twisted way.

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With a fixed smile and a firm, pleasant tone, she claimed to have cleared up everything while really clearing up nothing about Trump’s new position on what he would do with the undocumented immigrants. Dickerson pressed her a bit, but was too polite to really force the issue and, after allowing her to skate, he failed to do what he should have done, which would have been to at least state clearly that she had evaded the one and only question he tried to ask her over the first many minutes of the interview, although he did try asking several times, several ways.

If I were buying a car, and was confused about whether the warranty covered the engine, and the salesman used as many words as Conway did without answering my question, I would take my business elsewhere. Conway was clearly counting on the old (always misquoted) H.L. Mencken quote to the effect that no one ever went broke (or lost an election) by underestimating the intelligence of American public.

(I looked it up. What Mencken actually wrote was: “No one in this world, so far as I know — and I have searched the records for years, and employed agents to help me — has ever lost money by underestimating the intelligence of the great masses of the plain people. Nor has anyone ever lost public office thereby.”)

As I promised, I’ll post the full exchange below. But before I do, in the interests of equal time for Democratic evasiveness, I’ll mention that the second interview on the same show, interim DNC Chair Donna Brazile also showed a tremendous, somewhat similar commitment to tap-dancing and delivering the talking points without answering the question, although on a much less important matter, and that was really Dickerson’s fault for asking her a silly question about why Clinton isn’t further ahead in the polls.

OK, so here’s the setup for the Conway filibuster. Last week, at a town hall-style meeting in Texas moderated by Trump’s good friend Sean Hannity, Hannity brought up Trump’s clear promise made many times during the primaries that Trump would create a special “deportation police force” if necessary to round up every one of the (estimated) 11 million illegal aliens living in the United States and ship them back to their countries of origin.  This promise was very popular with Republican primary voters, but strikes others as too severe, especially in the case of those who have lived in the U.S. for years, have jobs and have kids who were born here. Asked Hannity:

 Is there any part of the law that you might be able to change that would accommodate those people that contribute to society, have been law-abiding, have kids here? Would there be any rule in your mind?

Replied Trump, contradicting roughly a year’s worth of previous statements:

There certainly can be a softening because we’re not looking to hurt people. We want people — we have some great people in this country. … We are going to follow the laws of this country.

Naturally, this prompts the question, what might this “softening” look like? I gather that, while I was hiking and reveling in the beauty of national parks, Team Trump has failed to clarify much about the softening and surely, as Conway prepared to Face the Nation Sunday, she knew she would be asked about this. And just to clarify, the key question is about the 11 or 12 million who do not have legal status to remain in the U.S., whether they will be tracked down, rounded up, and kicked out. Here’s the Dickerson-Conway exchange. 

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First try:

DICKERSON: “Joining us now, Donald Trump’s campaign manager, Kellyanne Conway. Kellyanne, I want to start with immigration, please. First, Donald Trump has told us over the last several months that on the question of the 11 million undocumented, that they will — they must leave the country as a part of his plan. That seems to have been pretty stable in our conversations with him. But now it seems to be shifting. Why is that?”

CONWAY: “Actually, he’s not, John. He’s pretty consistent. And immigration is a very complex issue, so if I may just talk about the six or seven tenets of his plan, and I will address your question.

“First, there’s still no amnesty. Secondly, he’s building that wall. That has been the centerpiece of his candidacy and his immigration vision from the beginning. And it has not changed one inch. Third, we have to end the sanctuary cities. Next, he has said that he will enforce the law. That is a novel concept in Washington, D.C., where they just like to layer law on top of law and never enforce what we have.

“And he also said that for those 11 million, if that in fact is the number, he wants to address that issue humanely and fairly. Those were his words. And he also said that he wants to not cause harm to people. So, the question is what to do.

“He has said that, if you want to be here legally, you have to apply to be here legally. We all learned in kindergarten to stand in line and wait our turn. And he is not talking about a deportation force, but he is talking about being fair and humane, but also being fair to the American workers who are competing for jobs, being fair to all of us who want secure borders and want the law enforced.”

(Me interjecting: Yes, Trump has talked about a deportation force. But he has now suggested some “softening” for some of those estimated 11 million. And, obviously, if they agree to return home and apply for legal admission to the U.S., that solves the question. They’ll either be allowed back in, or not. But, obviously, the question Dickerson and a great many others are wondering about is, what if they don’t volunteer for return home but just stay here, without legal status? So here’s Dickerson’s second try, really just repeating the original question while pretending that maybe Conway didn’t understand what he was asking):

Try No. 2

DICKERSON: “So, if the law is to be enforced, the 11 million or so — let’s just use that number for the moment — are here illegally, so enforcing the law would mean having them leave. So, how do they leave? Do they self-deport, or does — is there a — whether you want to call it a deportation force or something that helps them leave the country immediately, as he’s previously said he’d like to see happen?”

CONWAY: “Well, that’s really the question here, John. [Me interjecting: Yes, that really is the question, but he’s asking you for the answer.] And he has to deal with those agencies and those individuals already responsible for this who aren’t doing the job.

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“So, nobody enforces the law the way he wants to enforce the law. So, he obviously would work with law enforcement, immigration, the immigration agencies. We have ICE. We have agencies that already exist that are meant to be doing this already. And, again, it’s a very unusual idea for a president of the United States that would be President Trump to actually enforce the law and see how we can do this in way that, to quote him, fair, humane and effective.”

(Me: So are they rounding up the non-self-deporters or not? Dickerson, in try No. 3, decides to suggest that Trump’s unwillingness to clarify calls into question his reputation for candor and whether he is alienating those of his supporters who liked him precisely because he was clearly and explicitly promising to round up and kick out all the illegals.)

Third time

DICKERSON: “For someone who has been‚ who has run on [about] being candid about things, the apparent muddiness of this has caused some of his supporters, Mark Krikorian is one of them — he’s at the Center of Immigration Studies — Sarah Palin and Ann Coulter have suggested or think or hear that he might be abandoning his position. Here’s what Krikorian said: ‘Whatever remaining chance he had to win the White House is gone. The fact now that he has betrayed his base on the signature issue that he ran on seems to me the death knell of his candidacy as a practical matter.’

“He said that to The Wall Street Journal. So, what has he got wrong?”

CONWAY: “Well, he said something differently in a meeting just last week, or maybe the week before, when he was in Trump Tower for a roundtable. But the fact is, I would say to all those people and Mr. Trump’s supporters that, when you look at his plan, and you look at the no amnesty, and the building the wall, and the enforcing the law and the making sure that there’s no legalization, he’s also said that, it’s exactly what he’s been talking about altogether.

“And, by the way, there are two major choices in that ballot box. And if you look at Hillary Clinton’s immigration plan, you see a real — you a see convergence of a plan that would actually create more illegals coming in here, porous borders, sanctuary cities continued, catch and release, so that local law enforcement’s arms, hands are tied in terms of catching an illegal immigrant who shouldn’t — who has committed a crime. We just release them.

“Donald Trump has said if you committed a crime, you’re out of here. And so this isn’t just referendum of Donald Trump’s immigration. You have to contrast to Hillary Clinton’s. She’s to the left of Barack Obama on this. She’s been very critical of President Obama because he has deported millions of illegals and because he has used executive amnesty a little bit. But she promises to use it much more.”

Dickerson gives up and moves on to other topics.

The Brazile two-step

And here’s the Brazile two-step, in which she mostly demonstrates the rule of talking points. You come to an interview like this with certain things you are determined to say no matter what you are asked, and she unloads those points on the first round.

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DICKERSON: “And with us now is Democratic National Committee Chair Donna Brazile. Donna, I want to start with a quote here from veteran political reporter Al Hunt. He writes this in Bloomberg. He writes:

The Democrats had a successful convention. The Republicans didn’t. Clinton’s campaign has been smooth. Trump has careened between disasters. She has reached out to independents and Republicans. He has insulted the family of a soldier killed in Iraq, along with people with disabilities, Latinos and women. Clinton has outspent him 3-1, and she’s only ahead by 5 percentage points.

“Why do you think that is?”

DONNA BRAZILE, interim chair, Democratic National Committee: “Well, first of all, thank you, John. It’s great to be back on this show. It’s been a while, and it’s good to see you always.

“If you don’t mind, let me just start by saying, 53 years ago today, Dr. King gave a historic speech not far from here on the National Mall, where he raised our consciousness to talk about ways in which we come together as Americans. And so listening to Kellyanne, I just wanted to remind our friends out there that this is a country that has made so many remarkable strides toward a more perfect union. And I’m proud to be the interim chair of the Democratic Party.

Donna Brazile
Wikimedia Commons
Donna Brazile

“We have a great election cycle this year. There’s no question that the American people are looking for a candidate who will be able to, what I call to continue to make progress, whether it’s on health care, whether it’s job creation, and, of course, keeping the country safe and secure.”

(Me: Having unloaded her mercifully short list of talking points, Brazile then actually does address Dickerson’s not really very useful or probing “why-isn’t-Clinton-further-ahead-in-the-polls?” question with a not really very believable or useful answer.)

“I’m not worried about the polls today, because, as you know, the polls today reflect pretty much where the mood is, the mood of the country. A lot of voters are still undecided. They’re making up their minds.

“But Hillary Clinton and Tim Kaine over the period of last three weeks, they have been able to expand their performances, not just in the so-called battleground states, but we’re looking now at opportunities in Arizona and Georgia and elsewhere to continue to spread this Democratic message of inclusion, of stronger job creation, small businesses. I think we’re going to have a terrific year this year.”

A late Monday morning update …

from Mr. Trump himself.  Speaking in Iowa Sunday shortly after “Face the Nation” aired, Trump asserted that “In recent days, the media – as it usually does – has missed the whole point on immigration. All the media wants to talk about is the 11 million or more people here illegally. … I am going to build a great border wall, institute nationwide e-verify, stop illegal immigrants from accessing welfare and entitlements, and develop an exit-entry tracking system to ensure those who overstay their visas are quickly removed. If we don’t enforce visa expiration dates, then we have an open border – it’s as simple as that. I am also going to cancel all unconstitutional executive orders and empower rank-and-file ICE officers and Border Patrol officers to finally do the jobs they were hired for.”

Fine, that’s taking a position on many aspects of the immigration issue, although most aspects he enumerates reflect his longstanding position. What’s news is that he has recently said, with regard to the 11 million he formerly wanted to round up and deport, that “There certainly can be a softening.” That’s what’s “new” and the media is notoriously obsessed with what’s new. Only there’s no there there until Trump or one of his authorized minions clarifies what this “softening” might look like. Insisting that he clarify what the “softening” might be hardly constitutes “missing the whole point.” It’s more in the category of allowing him to change his position (which is always politically problematic), but insisting that he actually divulge the new position, not just hint at it.