By the time the president-elect won the White House last month, he was no longer talking about one of his signature campaign pledges, issued shortly after the San Bernardino attack last December, for “a total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States.” That proposed policy, which remains on his website to this day, was pitched as a temporary measure “until our country’s representatives can figure out what is going on.” But when Trump was asked about the ban in the second presidential debate, he shied away from it. “The Muslim ban is something that in some form has morphed into extreme vetting from certain areas of the world,” he said.
“In some form has morphed” is vague. It doesn’t indicate a clear change—what it does indicate, however, is wiggle room. And Trump’s vagueness on this issue is continuing now that he’s president-elect.
Asked Wednesday about the ban—and the notion of a registry from Muslims—in the context of the Berlin terrorist attack, Trump said, “You know my plans.” This isn’t confirmation that he’s returning to December’s proposal, but it does say something about Trump’s thinking. Trump has had plenty of opportunities to kill the Muslim ban—he nearly did it at the second debate—but instead he’s kept it on the table, even as he’s occasionally tried to distance himself from it. By doing so, Trump is giving himself just enough room to bring it back to life at a time when he thinks it’s politically useful.