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First Read: Trump's Stunning Flip-Flop on Immigration

First Read is a morning briefing from Meet the Press and the NBC Political Unit on the day's most important political stories and why they matter.
Donald Trump
Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump speaks at a campaign rally in Akron, Ohio, Monday, Aug. 22, 2016.Gerald Herbert / AP

First Read is a morning briefing from Meet the Press and the NBC Political Unit on the day's most important political stories and why they matter.

Trump’s stunning flip-flop on immigration

Earlier this week, we wrote that Trump was weighing the possibility of backtracking -- as difficult as it seems -- on his previous call for a “deportation force” to deal with the 11 million undocumented immigrants living in the United States. But never in our wildest dreams did we expect him to signal being open to a path for legal status for those undocumented immigrants, something over which he attacked primary rivals Ted Cruz and Jeb Bush. At least this soon. "No citizenship," Trump told Fox News' Sean Hannity in an interview taped Tuesday afternoon, per NBC’s Benjy Sarlin. "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." More from Trump: "When I look at the rooms and I have this all over, now everybody agrees we get the bad ones out," Trump said. "But when I go through and I meet thousands and thousands of people on this subject...they've said, Mr. Trump, I love you, but to take a person that has been here for 15 or 20 years and throw them and the family out, it's so tough, Mr. Trump."

Compare Trump’s new rhetoric with Jeb Bush’s from the primary season

If that sounds familiar, it’s not too different from Jeb Bush’s rhetoric during the 2016 primary season. “What we need to do is allow people to earn legal status where they pay a fine, where they work, where they don't commit crimes, where they learn English, and over an extended period of time, they earn legal status. That's the path -- a proper path,” Bush said at the Nov. 2015 Fox Business debate. But here is how Trump responded to someone like Bush during the primary season: “The weakest person on this stage by far on illegal immigration is Jeb Bush. They come out of an act of love, whether you like it or not. He is so weak on illegal immigration it's laughable, and everybody knows it,” Trump said at a Feb. 2016 debate in South Carolina. And here’s a Trump TV ad attacking Ted Cruz for being “pro-amnesty” and “pro-immigration” for once holding a similar view on legal status.

Will Trump’s supporters give him a pass?

That’s the big question we have. For one, conservative Ann Coulter -- whose new book “In Trump We Trust” has this line: "There's nothing Trump can do that won't be forgiven. Except change his immigration policies" -- went on the attack:

  • It's not "amnesty." It's "comprehensive immigration reform"!!!! Trump: "they have to pay taxes, there's no amnesty," she tweeted.
  • Only part he left out was the "hoops" they'll have to jump through! Trump: "No citizenship. Let me go a step further—they'll pay back-taxes," Coulter added.

What will Laura Ingraham say? What about Rush Limbaugh? Of course, Trump’s new position here doesn’t seem 100% set in stone, as Sarlin writes. “He sounded unsure of his own immigration position on Tuesday, at one point turning to the audience to survey them on the issue. ‘Look, this is like a poll, there's thousands of people in this room,’ Trump said. ‘Who wants those people thrown out?’ He later asked ‘Who does not want them thrown out?’ and concluded ‘there weren't that many for the number two, but the few people that stood up, I get that.’” NBC’s Hallie Jackson reports that Trump is expected to announce specifics on his immigration position in the next week or week in a half. Remember, Trump’s initial hardline immigration stance is what got him traction during the GOP primary, and it’s the most potent issue for many in the conservative base. This is definitely a risky move for Trump.

Clinton: “There are no excuses” when it comes to her email setup

Calling into CNN last night, Hillary Clinton appeared intent on cleaning up Colin Powell’s frustration about how Clinton and her allies are trying to pin her email problems on him. “Well, look, I have the utmost respect for Secretary Powell, and he was incredibly grateful after I was nominated and before I took the job,” she said, per NBC’s Monica Alba. “Appreciated the time he took when I was preparing to become secretary. Not going to re-litigate in public my private conversations with him. I’ve been asked many questions about emails and what I’ve learned is, what I’ve tried to explain there are no excuses. I want people to know that the decision to have a single email account was mine. I take responsibility for it. I apologize for it. I would certainly do differently if I could.” Clinton also responded to the recent controversy over the Clinton Foundation: "I worked as Secretary of State was not influenced by any outside sources. I made policy decision based on what I thought was right to keep Americans safe and protect US interests abroad. No wild attack by Donald Trump is going to change that and State Dept has said itself that there is no evidence of any kind of impropriety at all." The Trump campaign isn't buying any of it. “Clinton’s attempt to blame Colin Powell for her illegal email server backfired, and there’s no way the Clintons could go from dead broke to making more $250 million since leaving office without breaking the law and trading off their access to office,” communications adviser Jason Miller tells First Read. “This is exactly why we need a special prosecutor to investigate the blurring of lines between the Clinton State Department, the Clinton Foundation and the Clinton’s personal bank account. It’s corruption and the rigged system in Washington at its worse, and it’s exactly why we need to vote for a change agent like Donald Trump.”

What does the “Alt Right” mean?

At 3:00 pm ET, Hillary Clinton will deliver remarks from Reno, NV tying Donald Trump to the conservative ‘Alt Right” movement. But what does the Alt Right mean? We surveyed some Republicans and journalists and organizations who’ve observed the movement:

  • The Southern Poverty Law Center: "A set of far-right ideologies, groups and individuals whose core belief is that “white identity” is under attack by multicultural forces using “political correctness” and “social justice”
  • A Capitol Hill Republican: "White nationalists preying on racial and religious prejudices"
  • A prominent conservative commentator: “The reflexively anti-DC anti-Ryan/McConnell right”
  • The Washington Post’s Dave Weigel, who has written about the movement: "Conservatives opposed to the philosophy of 'invade the world, invite the world.'"

NBC’s Kasie Hunt has more on today’s speech: Clinton is NOT expected to label Trump a racist or a white nationalist; rather she will keep to what she's been comfortable with and label his words and policies as such. Expect the speech to trace Donald Trump's recent history in politics from his birther comments through to this campaign

Where will the Republican Party go after 2016?

Be sure to read the piece by NBC’s Leigh Ann Caldwell and Benjy Sarlin on what happens to the GOP after the 2016 election. “Whether or not Trump prevails in November, the GOP is set for a rebuilding process like none in recent memory. If he wins, he’ll face a Congress whose leaders have largely distanced themselves from his brand and who oppose much of his agenda. If he loses, his one-of-a-kind candidacy offers each faction of the party a credible argument that its approach would have carried the election instead.”

Tuesday’s Primary-palooza

Finally, we wanted to touch on the primary races we’ll be covering on Tuesday – John McCain vs. Kelli Ward in Arizona (which is a much closer race than this month’s earlier Paul Ryan primary), Marco Rubio vs. Carlos Beruff in Florida, Patrick Murphy vs. Alan Grayson in Florida, and Debbie Wasserman Schultz vs. Tim Canova in Florida.

On the trail

Hillary Clinton campaigns in Reno, NV at 3:00 pm ET… Donald Trump has a closed meeting with Latinos in New York, and then he holds a rally in Manchester, NH at 1:00 pm ET.

Countdown to Election Day: 75 days