5 things to watch for in Trump’s immigration speech

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Donald Trump heads to Arizona Wednesday for a pivotal immigration speech that could put to rest weeks of uncertainty. 

The GOP presidential nominee has publicly wrestled with his signature issue for more than a week, prompting intense media and political speculation as well as concern from some of his most ardent supporters. 

Here are five things to watch for in Trump’s Phoenix speech, slated to start at 9 p.m. 

What’s his tone?

Like other major Trump speeches, the style and rhetoric could be as important as the content. 

{mosads}A different Trump has taken to the stump since the elevation of pollster Kellyanne Conway to campaign manager and the hiring of Breitbart News executive Steve Bannon — one that’s featured an almost constant diet of scripted remarks. 

As the campaign hashes out the content of the speech, the rhetorical decisions Trump and his aides make will show whether he’s prioritizing a push toward the center geared at attracting Hispanics and moderate voters or one aimed at reassuring and rallying his base. 

But the wildcard remains whether Trump will stick to the language approved by his campaign or if he’ll break in a way that could backfire later. 

What about deportations?

The biggest question dogging Trump is whether he will still stand by his call for a “deportation force” to remove the 11 million undocumented immigrants. 

That hard line helped him steamroll his GOP primary foes, but it is less helpful with a more moderate general election audience. So with polls sagging, Trump and his campaign have issued contradictory signals over whether he’d be willing to moderate, leading to even more confusion. 

The Trump campaign has recently focused on his call to immediately deport “criminal illegal immigrants.” But that doesn’t settle what happens to those who haven’t committed other crimes besides violating immigration laws. 

One option could be a pathway to legal residency, perhaps with an immigration touch back, where those immigrants could leave the country briefly before returning to pay fines and ultimately remain in the country. 

Some conservative immigration activists see hope in that tactic thanks to Trump’s pronouncement from the start that he wants the “good” undocumented immigrants to come back into the country. 

Or he could stand by his primary rhetoric and call for the immediate removal of all 11 million undocumented immigrants.  

There’s also the option of punting on that question too. 

Republicans have long argued that the immigration debate must be handled in two phases — securing the border before even dealing with those in America illegally. So Trump could fall back on that strategy to take the pressure off having to propose his own solution. 

Any movement on the wall?

Trump’s “big, beautiful” wall has become the campaign’s central image, with supporters regularly breaking out into chants of “build that wall” at his rallies. 

But even that has come into question along with the rumors of a shift, with Rudy Giuliani describing Trump’s wall as a “technological, as well as a physical, wall.” 

It’s not the first time a Trump ally has cast doubt on his plans for a tangible barrier along the southern border. Former Texas Gov. Rick Perry did so in July, as did New York Rep. Chris Collins in May. 

But the recent speculation as Trump considers a shift in his deportation stance has prompted surrogates to reiterate their boss’s plan for a physical wall and try to pour cold water on any assertions otherwise. 

Will he make direct overtures to Hispanics?

It’s no secret that Trump is falling behind with Hispanic voters at the polls — in national polls released this week, Trump trails with Hispanics by as few as 19 percentage points and as many as 49 percentage points. 

The new Trump management appears more focused on closing that gap, as most speeches include some call to Hispanic voters. 

He could make a direct appeal Wednesday by either softening his rhetoric or providing for policy concessions like a touchback. 

Few believe that Trump can completely flip the script with the Hispanic electorate, but he’s polled significantly better with those either born in the U.S. or who primarily speak English. 

A July Pew poll found Trump down 70 points with Spanish-dominant Hispanics but by just 7 points with English-dominant Hispanics. It’s a similar pattern in a Gallup poll from this week that shows Trump still trailing but performing markedly better with U.S.-born Hispanics. 

Trump allies contend that his tough enforcement on the border may resonate with those who have recently gone through the legal immigration process. So if he hems close to the hard line, they are hopeful that those Hispanics will stay on board. 

Can he keep his base engaged?

Any step toward the center threatens to dissuade Trump’s base, including many who have been drawn to Trump by his stance on his signature issue.  

Assuming Trump moderates either his policies or his language, he’ll have to keep a careful eye on his right flank. If his base views a shift as an abandonment of that key promise, it could prompt his most ardent supporters to stay home. 

That could be a high-stakes gamble unlikely to pay off for a candidate already behind at the polls, as few people believe that enough Hispanics will ever flock to Trump to make angering his base worth it. 

Trump could use policy or rhetoric to hug his base tight even if he moderates elsewhere — either with a new red meat proposal or a frame meant to direct their anger toward Democrat Hillary Clinton and hopefully keep their passion for Trump burning. 

It’s this dynamic that makes Wednesday’s speech such a difficult one for Trump, who sits in between two contradictory goals — keeping his base happy and expanding his tent wide enough to win in November.

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