The Internet is abuzz with talk of a Donald Trump "secret interview" on immigration. "Donald Trump Secretly Told The New York Times What He Really Thinks About Immigration," was the headline on a Ben Smith story on Buzzfeed, reporting that the paper "is sitting on an audio recording that some of its staff believes could deal a serious blow to Donald Trump, who, in an off-the-record meeting with the newspaper, called into question whether he would stand by his own immigration views."
At issue is an editorial board interview Trump did with the Times on January 5. According to Times columnist Gail Collins — if you don't know her, she's the journalist who made Mitt Romney's treatment of his dog a centerpiece of her 2012 presidential campaign coverage — Trump told the Times something to the effect that he might not actually push for the deportation of all 11 million illegal immigrants in the United States "because it's going to be the first bid in some future monster negotiation session."
In other words, the story goes, Trump's tough talk on immigration is just talk. He doesn't really mean what he's been telling voters, who will be outraged when they find out that their presidential choice has not been honest with them. Or at least that's the story.
After Smith published, Trump rivals Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio both called on Trump to release his "secret immigration interview." Trump should "ask the New York Times to release the audio of his interview with him so we can see exactly what it is he truly believes about this issue that he has made the cornerstone of his campaign," said Rubio at a rally in Conway, Arkansas.
Maybe there is some huge, game-changing secret statement Trump made to the Times. But I actually asked Trump the same, or similar, question on January 12, a week after the Times interview, during an on-the-record session on board his plane at the Waterloo, Iowa airport. I asked if the pledge to deport illegal immigrants is "an opening position in a negotiation." Trump said that while there could be "some give and take," his views on deportations, as well as on a temporary ban of Muslims coming to the United States, "are very strong positions, and I would adhere to those positions very strongly."
It wasn't exactly a scandalous answer. Here is the transcript of what Trump said:
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?
The bottom line: 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.