Trump, the Times, and the off-the-record tapes

Donald Trump’s rivals and enemies are seizing on a report that in off-the-record discussions with the New York Times editorial board, he made remarks that “called into question whether he would stand by his own immigration views,” in the words of Ben Smith of Buzzfeed, who broke the story.  Both Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz have called on Trump to release the tape:

“It sounds like what he told [the New York Times] is different from what he is telling you,” Rubio told supporters in Conway, Arkansas. “Donald Trump should ask the New York Times to release the audio of his interview with them so we can see exactly what it is he truly believes about this issue which he has made the cornerstone of his campaign.”

Cruz tweeted a video of his statement:


Others, including Mitt Romney and arch-critic Rich Lowry, have joined in the cacophonous calls to #ReleaseTheTape.

All of this is ridiculous in my eyes.  First and foremost, Donald Trump has never made a secret of his approach to life lying in taking strong negotiating positions.  In November of last year, Henry Scanlon laid out for American Thinker readers the strategy Trump is following:

The illegal immigrant community has, for years, been framing the argument to their self-perceived benefit: We're here. We're your problem. You have an obligation to figure out what's to be done with us, and you need to do it in a way that demonstrates to the world that you are not a country made up of lousy, unfeeling, greed-driven people.  (Did I mention you’re racists?)

Put simply, the question as they would have it constructed is this:

“What are you going to do for us in order to get us to stop being your problem?” (snip)

When Trump states that his first order of business is going to be to deport the problem back to wherever it came from, on the one hand, he leaves behind any pretense of punctiliousness, but, on the other, he immediately turns the discussion on its head.  The question no longer perches on the issue of what he, President Trump, is going to do for them, undocumented workers, to get them to agree to stop being his problem (which is to say, what they want to argue about), it hops across a great divide, turning back on itself, and becomes: What are they going to do for him, Trump, in order to incentivize him to stop being their problem.  That is, it moves from something they do want to talk about -- what are you going to do for me? -- to something they don't want to talk about: What do I have to do for you in order to be let back in through your big, beautiful door”?

Look what he's accomplished with this outlandish stance, and remember, so far, he hasn't actually done anything:

Prior to this, the advocates would consider anything less than full amnesty to be a loss; now, Trump has maneuvered to the position where he is more than happy to let them consider anything less than full deportation a win. 

Put another way: Of course Trump’s initial position is a bargaining position.  Duh!

Byron York yesterday recounted in the Washington Examiner his own on-the-record discussion with Trump on January 5:

QUESTION: You've talked about compromise. There was a time you said there's nothing wrong with compromise — you just ask for about three times what you want, and then you get what you want. So I look at deporting all illegal immigrants. I look at a temporary ban of Muslims coming to the United States. They get a lot of attention. Are they opening positions in a negotiation?

TRUMP: I'm not saying there can't be some give and take, but at some point we have to look at these things. You look at the radical Islamic terrorism and you look at what's going on, we have to take a serious look. There's tremendous hatred. You look at illegal immigration and all that's taking place with respect to illegal immigration, whether it's the crime or the economy, I mean, it affects many different elements. It doesn't mean I'm hard and fast 100 percent, but we have to get a lot of what I'm asking for, or we're not going to have a country any more.

QUESTION: So they are opening positions?

TRUMP: They are very strong positions. It doesn't mean you're not going to negotiate a little bit, but I guess there will always be some negotiation. But they are very strong positions, and I would adhere to those positions very strongly. That doesn't mean that at some point we won't talk a little bit about some negotiation. Who wouldn't do that?

As York sees it:

Maybe Trump said something completely different to the New York Times seven days earlier. But he has addressed the "opening position" question in a non-secret interview, in a way that would not disappoint followers who want to see him take a tough position on illegal immigration.

All that said, it is worth noting that the New York Times has not covered itself in glory here.  Members of its staff have leaked supposedly confidential content of an interview to others in the media, violating their obligation to keep it confidential.  As Buzzfeed’s Smith indicates:

On Saturday, columnist Gail Collins, one of the attendees at the meeting (which also included editor-in-chief Dean Baquet), floated a bit of speculation in her column:

The most optimistic analysis of Trump as a presidential candidate is that he just doesn’t believe in positions, except the ones you adopt for strategic purposes when you’re making a deal. So you obviously can’t explain how you’re going to deport 11 million undocumented immigrants, because it’s going to be the first bid in some future monster negotiation session.

Sources familiar with the recording and transcript — which have reached near-mythical status at the Times — tell me [emphasis added] that the second sentence is a bit more than speculation. It reflects, instead, something Trump said about the flexibility of his hardline anti-immigration stance.

So anyone who speaks off the record to the New York Times should now understand that they don’t really mean it.  It is acceptable to leak to others what was said – at least if the Times opposes you.  Unless the Times launches an investigation and punishes those who leaked the data, this conclusion will become a guideline for all who speak to the Times off the record in the future.  There is no such thing as off the record in Timesland.

Meanwhile, Trump's opponents are shocked, shocked that bargaining is going on.  Too bad for them there are no usual suspects to be rounded up – just Trump.

And he is winning.