The morning after Donald Trump once again embraced his hard-line immigration positions in a shouted speech, at least four members of his two-week-old Hispanic advisory council said they might not vote for the Republican presidential nominee and warned that his harsh rhetoric would cost him the election.

At meetings Thursday at Trump Tower in Manhattan, the candidate’s top aides held the opposite view. They thought his tough talk on immigration – combined with a whirlwind trip to Mexico on Wednesday – had, in the words of one adviser, “won him the election.”

“How do you like our poll numbers?” Trump excitedly asked The Washington Post on Thursday. He rattled off recent surveys that he said show his support has inched up.

For nearly two weeks, Trump has publicly and privately debated how best to describe his immigration positions, especially when it comes to the roughly 11 million illegal in the country.

He spent days floating a series of possible changes and even visited Mexico for a few hours Wednesday in a bid to appear more presidential. But later that night, he decided to stick with the far-right positions that were key to his success in the primaries.

The roller-coaster debate – which continued Thursday after a speech the campaign heralded as definitive – centered on Trump’s repeated calls during the primaries to deport all undocumented immigrants. He suggested that his declaration applied even if they have lived here for decades, are contributing members of society or have children who are U.S. citizens.

But in the end, the debate within the Trump campaign turned out to be about messaging rather than policy.

“He hasn’t changed his position on immigration,” Trump surrogate Katrina Pierson told CNN last week. “He’s changed the words that he is saying.”

The public side of the debate started Aug. 20, when Trump held a hurriedly organized Saturday meeting with a newly formed National Hispanic Advisory Council at Trump Tower. He asked those around the table to share alternatives to mass deportation, signaling that he was willing to change his mind on the issue.

The council urged Trump to focus on how undocumented immigrants contribute to the nation’s economy and abandon his plans to quickly deport millions. For several days, the candidate seemed to echo these views.

In Texas, Trump even polled audience members to get their input on the fate of undocumented immigrants.

But some Trump advisers urged him to use tough, nativist language Wednesday in Phoenix to create as sharp a contrast as possible with Clinton.

“We had a serious adult conversation about where we are. The people that won this debate said, ‘Look, this is what got us here, and we can’t abandon it,'” one Trump adviser said Thursday, speaking on the condition of anonymity. “There were many of us who made input, and it was clear that the hold-the-line people, we had more sway with him. I think the political calculation is, you can’t abandon the base.”

As Trump’s campaign was debating whether and when he should give an immigration speech, the nominee received an invitation from Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto.

Trump arrived Wednesday afternoon – hours before his Phoenix immigration speech – and many pundits lauded him for seeming willing to work with the leader of a nation that he has insulted.

Hours later, Trump’s tone changed significantly as he broadly painted many undocumented immigrants as violent criminals and vowing that he would quickly deport millions.

“That is all him. Those are his decisions,” a top campaign aide said. “He got very different viewpoints on immigration. But in the end, it was all him”

But the harsh tone stunned Jacob Monty, a member of Trump’s Hispanic advisory council who wrote a newspaper column in June headlined, “A Latino’s case for Donald Trump.”

“The speech was just an utter disappointment,” he said.

Soon afterward, Monty resigned from the advisory group and posted on Facebook that he will not vote for Trump.

Others felt the same way. Ramiro Peña, a Texas pastor, called the advisory council “a scam.” Massey Villarreal, a Houston businessman, deemed the speech “awful.”Alfonso Aguilar, a Latino activist, tweeted that he felt “disappointed and misled.”

Even as those defections were unfolding, more than a dozen senior Trump campaign staffers met at Trump Tower to map out their strategy for the rest of the race. The mood in the room was charged and optimistic, with attendees praising Trump’s speech and trip as a jolt to his bid.

Augusta and Waterville news

Get news and events from your towns in your inbox every Friday.

  • This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.