After several weeks of confusion over the presumed signature policy initiative of Donald Trump's presidential campaign - immigration - it's worth recalling that, for all the forthrightness his followers like to attribute to him, he has been remarkably unclear about many other things.
Consider, for example, the instances of the infamous Muslim database.
Part of the confusion came about after Trump cautioned, in effect, that he didn't mean what many people thought he meant. The whole Muslim database question became - and this redounded, likely, to Trump's benefit - too convoluted for many people to want to revisit, for fear of getting it wrong. (This whole subject of being confusing and unclear is, by the way, yet another ample disqualifier from the presidency, where clarity is of real importance.)
One organization that did take a serious look at it, and come up with some conclusions, is Politifact, which last November took a serious look at what was and wasn't said.
Speaking after last fall's terrorist attack in France, a reporter from Yahoo asked Trump, "do you think there is some kind of state of emergency here, and do we need warrantless searches of Muslims?"
The reply, no model of clarity, was: "We’re going to have to do certain things that were frankly unthinkable a year ago."
Seeking some specificity, the reporter asked, "Do you think we might need to register Muslims in some type of database, or note their religion on their ID?"
Trump's response to that clarified nothing: "We’re going to have to look at a lot of things very closely. We’re going to have to look at the mosques. We’re going to have to look very, very carefully."
A day later, with unanswered questions still in the air, an MSNBC reporter asked, "Should there be a database or system that tracks Muslims in this country?"
Trump said in reply, "There should be a lot of systems. Beyond databases. I mean, we should have a lot of systems."
Beyond database? What was he talking about? Maybe he himself didn't know, because he tried moving on the subject of the Mexican wall, when a reporter interrupted: "But that’s something your White House would like to implement."
"I would certainly implement that. Absolutely." Absolutely a database, a wall, something beyond a database, or something else?
Most candidates would by now have sensed that whatever they intended or wanted to say was going south, mired in confusion. But when Trump was immediately afterward asked how the database would be researched and created, Trump replied, "It would just be good management."
Did Trump understand the question, or didn't he care?
Later in the same day, when a reporter asked him to contrast the idea of a registry of Muslims with the Nazi registry of Jews, Trump replied, "You tell me." If he didn't support the idea of a registry, he seemed to be willfully allowing it to grow and to identify with it. Then still later that same day, he tweeted - accurately - that a reporter not he had brought up the idea of a registry database.
Soon after, as controversy grew, he turned up on Fox News and appeared to dismiss the idea of a registry database, sort of. He said that he wanted a watch list, surveillance (or who or what he didn't say) and a database of Syrian refugees.
The next day, he added even more confusion (if that was possible) at an Alabama rally, where he said, "So the database - I said yeah, that’s alright fine. But they also said the wall, and I said the wall, and I was referring to the wall, but database is okay, and watch list is okay, and surveillance is okay."
After parsing through all that and more, what Politifact finally came up with was, "No, he would not rule out a database on all Muslims. But for now, he wants a database for refugees."
That seems like a reasonable end point to all the analysis.
But what would be the end point in a Trump Administration? None of us really have any way of knowing. - rs