One of the more sadly comical moments in a campaign that has provided plenty has been Donald Trump’s brief pivot on immigration, his erratic search for positions that don’t undercut the racist talking points that got him where he is today and his abrupt return to Trump Classic (“Mmmm — Taste The Xenophobia!”).

This brief period of not-so-believable moderation and attempts to “look presidential” — punctuated by a hastily arranged flight to Mexico to meet with Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto — was abandoned altogether last week on stage in Phoenix, only hours after his trip.

“Are you ready? Are? You? Ready?” Trump bellowed, whipping the crowd into a frenzy. “We will build a great wall along the southern border!”

Cheers stopped him for a full 40 seconds before he could continue. “And Mexico will pay for the wall! Hundred percent. They don’t know it yet, but they’re gonna pay for it!”

Republican nominee Donald Trump gets ready to address the faithful last Wednesday in Phoenix.
Republican nominee Donald Trump gets ready to address the faithful last Wednesday in Phoenix. Gage Skidmore via Flickr

Unlikely. The English translation of Nieto’s tweet in Spanish the following morning goes like this: “I repeat what I told you in person, Mr. Trump: Mexico will never pay for a wall.”

That followed angry comments Nieto made after the incendiary Phoenix speech, in which he called Trump’s ideas a “threat to the future of Mexico.”

If Trumpism isn’t going over well in Mexico, it’s playing even worse outside Trump’s rally halls. Fifteen of the two-dozen members of Trump’s National Hispanic Advisory Council were reportedly ready to resign  the next morning after the speech (and several did), with one calling Trump’s campaign a “scam” that he couldn’t be part of.

“I believe Mr. Trump lost the election (last night),” said Ramiro Pena, a Texas minister.

One of the nation’s most prominent immigrants and the only one serving in the U. S. Senate, Mazie Hirono, certainly took notice. In a blistering, 10-tweet storm following the Phoenix speech, the first-term senator, who is emerging as a consistent national voice on immigration, blasted Trump as “bizarre,” “desperate,” “offensive” and a candidate who “goes against American values and everything we stand for as a country.”

Trump’s “vision of America is the opposite of the one my mom envisioned when she risked everything to bring me here” from Japan, Hirono tweeted, invoking a story familiar to many Hawaii voters. “A country with (Trump) as president would not be a welcoming country to immigrants like my mom and me.”

Dance With The One Who Brung You

The numbers alone would seem to question why Trump is continuing this crusade. Legal immigration to the United States has been in decline for 10 years since peaking at 1.27 million in 2006, according to the Washington-based Migration Policy Institute. Legal immigration from Mexico has been steadily dropping since its 2007 high of 1 million to 164,700 in 2014.

While the estimated number of immigrants living in the U.S. illegally rose sharply in this country from 1990 to 2007, when it hit what is believed to be 12.2 million, it has since dropped to about 11.3 million largely “because of a decrease in immigration from Mexico,” according to the Pew Research Center.

And as an issue of major importance, immigration doesn’t make the top five. A survey conducted by Pew in June identified the economy, terrorism and foreign policy as the big three, with immigration showing up in the middle of a pack of 14 issues of greatest concern to voters.

Trump doesn’t just feed red meat to the uniformly white, working-class crowds at his rallies, he generously plies them with a rhetorical equivalent of grain alcohol and meth.

But for those disenfranchised, fearful voters who have brought Trump to the dance, immigration is often not only the most important issue, it’s the only issue. Facing an uncertain future, they warily eye a group they see as displacing them in economic and cultural terms.

So at a time when most nominees would be charting a course more toward the center, Trump seems to be living the old adage, “You got to dance with the one who brung you.”

He does, with enthusiasm. Trump doesn’t just feed red meat to the almost uniformly white, working-class crowds at his rallies. He generously plies them with a rhetorical equivalent of grain alcohol and meth.

The result is a truly frightening campaign environment, chillingly captured by The New York Times last month in a widely seen video depicting Trump supporters in their own words. Screams of “build the wall!” are punctuated in the video by ugly slurs — “beaner,” “fag” and more — the most vile of them reserved for Hillary Clinton, who is referred to as a “whore,” a “tramp” and worse. “Hang the bitch!” yelled one supporter. “Kill her!” shouted another.

“This is a movement like people have never seen before,” beamed Trump like a proud papa from the stage.

Oh, no — we’ve seen it, all right. When segregationist Alabama Gov. George Wallace drew 10 million votes and carried five states in the 1968 presidential race, his brand of naked racism was just as provocative and just as effective at riling a particular poorly educated, working-class demographic fearful of a changing culture.

MSNBC aired a deeper examination of the uncanny similarities between the Trump and Wallace campaigns in January, and it’s worth your time. Among the most striking moments is when Tom Turnipseed, manager of Wallace’s 1968 campaign, compares the two candidates’ exploitation of race and fear.

“And so then it’s like, ‘You gotta be afraid, the black folks are taking over!’ And you take Trump, ‘The Mexicans are coming, the Chinese — they’re gonna get you!” he said. “You know, fear is a motivator in politics and in many other ways. (Trump and Wallace) are a lot alike in that.”

Hispanic Vote Could Determine The Presidency

These were the same arguments, by the way, that Trump was making earlier this year when he won the GOP presidential caucus in Hawaii with more than 43 percent of the vote. Voters here chose him over the comparably moderate Sen. Ted Cruz, who finished a distant 11 points behind, even though Trump had recently declined to criticize U.S. internment camps for Japanese Americans in World War II and has since called for a halt to immigration from the Philippines, from which one-fourth of Hawaii’s population emanates.

How will all this play out? Opinions are split, but the facts for Trump are difficult, at best. Hispanics, who he seems to be working overtime to alienate, now number more than 55 million, about 17 percent of the U.S. population. That population has grown by 57 percent since 2000 alone.

And a record 27.3 million Hispanic voters will be eligible to vote in this fall’s presidential election, about half of them millenials. The overall total has grown by 4 million voters since the last presidential vote.

You might venture a guess as to how Trump is doing with these voters, and however modest that might be, the reality is probably worse. A USA Today/Suffolk University poll released last week showing Clinton leading Trump by 7 points revealed that 70 percent of the survey’s Hispanic respondents viewed Trump unfavorably. Only 17 percent had a favorable impression.

And that poll was taken before Trump’s bizarre trip to Mexico. Before his speech in Phoenix. And certainly before the high-profile defection of multiple Hispanic supporters.

But this is exactly how Trump infamously began his campaign last year, calling Mexican immigrants rapists and drug dealers — we’ve all heard it a million times by now. Perhaps we shouldn’t be surprised that he’s doubling down on this appalling message as the campaign enters its two-month homestretch.

But it is ironic, nonetheless. In what may be a close election, every vote will count. If Hillary Clinton wins, Hispanic voters, who are expected to turn out in record numbers, may be able to lay credible claim to having delivered the presidency to her.

That may leave the GOP nominee somewhere in Trump Tower, crying into his taco bowl. Which would be just fine. The sooner we can send this horrible excuse for a person, much less a presidential candidate, the way of Wallace, ensuring that his historical significance is only as a curiosity who briefly held the attention of the country, the better off we’ll all be.

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