Conventional political wisdom says that presidential candidates pander to their base during the primaries, then move center during the general election to appeal to a wider cross-section of the American public.
Bill Clinton was credited with perfecting the move, adopting tough stances on things like welfare reform and criminal justice as a way to appeal to right-leaning independents and even some Republicans in 1992.
Donald Trump isn't a conventional candidate, and most conventional rules don't apply to him. That probably explains why he's been so slow to realize that the general election is a completely different ballgame than the primaries.
Trump's attempts to stabilize his temperament and backpeddle on his notoriously tough immigration stance are signs that he's finally realizing those truths. But because he built his candidacy on the immigration issue, and because his base flocked to him for his perceived candor and disregard for political correctness, any move to the center for Trump is like walking a tight rope.
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In other words, backpeddle too much and he runs the risk of losing the people who propelled him to the nomination in the first place. They won't vote for Hillary Clinton, but they could certainly lose their enthusiasm for Trump and stay home on election day.
The Republican candidate floated the idea of a kinder, gentler immigration policy during an August 23 interview with Fox News host Sean Hannity.
"There could certainly be a softening because we're not looking to hurt people," Trump said of his previous calls to actively pursue and deport illegal immigrants.
"So you have somebody who's been in the country for 20 years, has done a great job, and everything else," Trump said. "Do we take him and the family and her and him or whatever and send him out?”
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That didn't sit well with some of his supporters.
“You’re reversing yourself!” one audience member shouted, according to the Austin American-Statesman.
Conservative firebrand Ann Coulter, who's hitched her latest book to the Trump train -- "In Trump We Trust," released August 23 -- sounded cautious when asked about Trump's "softening" on immigration.
“It sounds like it’s coming from consultants,” Coulter said on MSNBC, the Independent Journal Review reports.
But two days later, Coulter appeared to mock the Republican candidate on Twitter, taking him to task for saying it's "hard" to deport illegal immigrants.
"Well, if it's 'hard,' then nevermind," Coulter quipped.
Then there's this line from her new book: "There's nothing Trump can do that won't be forgiven. Except change his immigration policies." Coulter doesn't speak for all conservatives, but there's been enough grumbling to conclude that Trump's about-face could backfire spectacularly.
As Right Wing Watch noted, callers to conservative talker Glenn Beck's radio show could barely conceal their rage after Trump's backpeddling.
One caller from West Virginia made it clear that if Trump's proposed border wall becomes the next casualty of his experiment for broad appeal, "he's in so much trouble, you don’t even understand the backlash of us, the ones who are so frustrated and angry and tired of all the political stuff."
"We're going to come after him personally," the caller said. "You know what I mean? We're going to get him."