What Trump described this week is the same basic approach as the bipartisan “Gang of Eight” reform bill passed three years ago by the Senate—which immigration hard-liners derided as amnesty. (Gage Skidmore / CC 2.0)

WASHINGTON — Donald Trump’s supporters can pretend otherwise, but deep down they must know the truth: Trump has been playing them for fools all along.

All that bluster about creating a “deportation force” to round up 11 million undocumented immigrants and kick them out of the country? Forget about it. Trump is now “softening” that ridiculous pledge, which he could never have carried out, into a new policy in which “we work with them.”

Hmmm. Work with them how?

All we know of the details, so far, is what Trump said Wednesday at a town hall hosted by Sean Hannity of Fox News: “Now, everybody agrees we get the bad ones out. But when I go through and I meet thousands and thousands of people on this subject, and I’ve had very strong people come up to me, really great, great people come up to me, and they’ve said, ‘Mr. Trump, I love you, but to take a person who’s been here for 15 or 20 years and throw them and their family out, it’s so tough, Mr. Trump.’ I mean, I have it all the time. It’s a very, very hard thing.”

Trump talked about how such families will “pay back-taxes, they have to pay taxes,” and claimed that “there’s no amnesty, as such.” If this is indeed Trump’s revised policy, he now advocates the same basic approach as the one laid out in the bipartisan “Gang of Eight” reform bill passed three years ago by the Senate — which immigration hard-liners derided as amnesty.

Attempts by allies to explain the complete reversal have been comic. My favorite came from Trump campaign spokeswoman Katrina Pierson, who said this on CNN: “He hasn’t changed his position on immigration, he’s changed the words that he is saying.”

That absurdist formulation sounds like something from the experimental writings of author Gertrude Stein — who, come to think of it, gave us the perfect blanket description of the entire Trump campaign: “There is no there there.”

There never was any “there” in Trump’s wild promises, many of which were not just impractical but impossible. No, he was never going to be able to roust millions of people from their homes. No, he was never going to be able to ban all foreign Muslims from entering the country.

Trump continues to claim that, if elected president, he will build a wall along the entire southern border and get Mexico to pay for it. This, too, would be logistically and politically impossible, but I believe he’ll keep saying it until the bitter end. He seems to think he can get away with betraying supporters on the deportation issue by hiding behind his “artistically beautiful” imaginary wall.

I realize that most of Trump’s ardent fans do not take kindly to being lectured by the likes of me. But it is with a certain degree of genuine sympathy that I say what has to be said: Your candidate is a flake. A fraud. A bag of air. A con man. A joke.

I understand the frustration that made the Republican base such fertile ground for the Trump phenomenon to flourish. The GOP leadership spent the entire Obama administration making promises it knew it could not keep — on immigration, the economy, fighting terrorism, repealing Obamacare and so on. This was good short-term politics, especially in the 2010 and 2014 midterm elections, but many voters became disillusioned with politics and politicians. Enter Trump, a non-politician with zero scruples, who quickly identified which buttons to push — and pushed them like crazy.

I also understand that for some voters, Hillary Clinton is basically, as Trump called her, “the devil.” There are those who will vote for Trump just to keep his opponent from becoming president.

But no one, at this point, should cling to the illusion that a vote for Trump is a vote for any specific policy on any given issue. Having said all kinds of outrageous things to win the nomination, he is now trying — clumsily — to say more moderate things in an attempt not to get crushed in November. I wouldn’t take his new, “humane” immigration stance any more seriously than his earlier draconian pronouncements.

In a sense, spokeswoman Pierson was right: Trump doesn’t actually have positions. He only has words.

There is anger, bigotry and ignorance behind many of those words. But mostly, where substance ought to be found, there is just arrogance and ego. Trump thinks his supporters are suckers who will line up to buy deportation one day and amnesty the next. Some champion.

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