Donald Trump’s shifting message on immigration has renewed criticisms of the campaign from a former rival from the primary season, Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas).
Trump suggested in a Fox News Town Hall on Thursday that he was backing away from his long-held position that all people who are in the United States illegally should be deported. Instead he suggested that he would be open to “work with” certain immigrants who have been in the country for a long time.
Cruz and Trump sparred about immigration on the debate stage in February when the Texas Senator characterized the Republican candidate as someone who cuts deals with Democrats and supports amnesty and open borders.
For the Cruz campaign, the latest shifts to Trump’s message validates those criticisms.
“We really, really told you this was going to happen everybody,” said Cruz’s former Senate communications director Amanda Carpenter on CNN Thursday morning.
“But what we saw last night was that he is opening the door to comprehensive immigration reform by providing amnesty through legal status, not citizenship,” she added, pointing out that his position is similar to what Trump’s former rivals, Jeb Bush and Marco Rubio, advocated.
Ted Cruz has had a rocky relationship with Trump. He was booed off stage after refusing to endorse Trump at the Republican National Convention last month.
A Changing Position
The Republican candidate has made a consolidated effort in the past week to walk back and soften the tone of his message on the topic of illegal immigration, and taking a more sympathetic position towards undocumented immigrants who have been in the country for years.
“No citizenship. Let me go a step further—they’ll pay back-taxes, they have to pay taxes, there’s no amnesty, as such, there’s no amnesty, but we work with them,” Trump told Sean Hannity after the Fox News host asked him about his policy.
At a rally in Jackson, Mississippi, on Aug. 24, Trump affirmed that he will protect jobs from “illegal immigration and a broken visa system.” He expanded by saying that immigrants “must pass three tests:” they must improve American jobs and wages, safety, and quality of life.
Last November he advocated for the deportation of 11.6 million via a task force in an interview with MSNBC’s Morning Joe.
Cruz’s wasn’t the only campaign to be critical of the softening stance. Ann Coulter, a conservative spokeswoman and one of Trump’s longtime supporters, took to Twitter to critique the Republican candidate.
“Well, if it’s “hard,” then nevermind,” Coulter tweeted, responding to Trump saying it’s “a very, very hard thing” to deport an undocumented immigrant who’s been in the country for “15 or 20 years” at the Fox News Town Hall with Sean Hannity.
Well, if it’s “hard,” then nevermind. Trump: “… to take a person who’s been here for 15 or 20 years ….It’s a very, very hard thing.”
— Ann Coulter (@AnnCoulter) August 25, 2016
Trump’s campaign manager has pushed back against the claim that he’s back-peddling on his hard line about immigration, saying that the media is distorting his position.
“He has said exactly the same thing all along: Let’s enforce the law. And if you enforce the law, a lot of good things start happening with respect to deporting people who have committed crimes and certainly protecting American workers,” said spokesperson Kellyanne Conway on “Fox and Friends” on Aug. 23.
“Many American workers now feel they’re competing with illegal immigrants as well as people in factories in Mexico or China or robots somewhere else,” Conway added. “And so we want to be fair to everyone.”