It’s the Summer of Trump and the Republican Party, what’s left of it, seems to have no idea for dealing with the phenomenon that is The Donald. He’s running as one of them, but on his own dime – he’s absurdly rich – and he seems to have no particular policy positions – and he says the damnedest things. John McCain isn’t much of a war hero? The Republican Party has been selling that to the American public for a generation, and that was the fallback position in 2008 when McCain stepped in it again. Hey, he’s a war hero! Donald Trump says no – he likes war heroes that weren’t captured early and spent the whole war in a prison cell. And as much as the Republican Party would like to win at least a bit of the Hispanic vote just one time, Donald Trump opened his campaign by saying that everyone knows that those who slip across our border from Mexico are rapists and murderers and drug dealers. He casually suggested we should have invaded Mexico, not Iraq. Not only was the Mexican government offended, and the Mexican people – Donald Trump piñatas continue to sell out down there – the Republican Party saw the Hispanic vote slipping away, again.
It wasn’t supposed to be this way. After Mitt Romney lost in 2012, convincingly, there was the Reince Priebus autopsy – offered after their guy lost almost all the Hispanic and black vote, and lost the women’s vote and the vote of the young, and the vote of anyone with even a year or two of college, by wide margins, and after the Republicans didn’t win back the Senate when two or three of their Tea Party candidates imploded. It was time for outreach to minorities, and women, and the young and maybe even gays. The Republicans were going to reach out and become inclusive and we’d have two evenly-matched political parties again. There’d be no more angry old white men sneering at anyone unlike them, and sneering at science too. There’d be no more rich white guys sneering at anyone who wasn’t a millionaire just like them – they’d tone it down. The National Republican Congressional Committee had already been training incumbents on how to interact with women voters – there’s a nice way to tell them they can’t be trusted with moral choices like abortion, or any choices about their own body, and how their accepting less pay than a man for the same work is really good for the economy, so they ought to do their part. The presumption was that America was basically a conservative country, and everyone actually agreed with them on all the big issues of the day. They just had to explain themselves better, and with new voter-ID laws and voter restrictions in the many states they controlled, at the state level where such things are determined, they could make it very hard for blacks and the poor and the needy elderly to ever vote again.
That left the Hispanics. What had Romney done wrong? It was that Republican presidential debate on Monday, January 23, 2012, at the University of South Florida in Tampa:
In Monday night’s Republican presidential debate out of Florida, Mitt Romney described his plan for reducing the number of undocumented immigrants in the U.S.: “self-deportation.”
The former Massachusetts governor was responding to a question about his immigration position by Adam Smith, the political editor at “The Tampa Bay Times,” who said he was “confused” about his stance on deportation.
“Governor Romney, there is one thing I’m confused about. You say you don’t want to go and round up people and deport them, but you also say that they would have to go back to their home countries and then apply for citizenship. So, if you don’t deport them, how do you send them home?” Smith asked.
Romney said “we’re not going to round people up” but rather, financially struggling undocumented immigrants would choose to return to their home countries of their own volition.
“The answer is self-deportation, which is people decide they can do better by going home because they can’t find work here because they don’t have legal documentation to allow them to work here,” he said. “And so we’re not going to round people up.”
Romney was threading the needle here. He wasn’t going to deport them. He wasn’t a nasty, angry person, fed up with them all. We could just make their lives so miserable they’d give up and go home. That was more humane and more practical.
To be fair, Mitt Romney was only talking about limiting their job opportunities, but that’s not what people heard. He did want to harass a class of people. The Hispanic vote was gone, but it wasn’t just Mitt Romney. Four months earlier, at a debate sponsored by the “tea party” folks, Rick Perry was booed over a Texas law that gives in-state college tuition to children of illegal immigrants – “We were clearly sending a message to young people that, regardless of what the sound of their last name is, that we believe in you. We are going to allow you to be contributing members of the state of Texas and not be a drain on the system.”
The audience was having none of that. The whole nation saw that. Hispanic voters saw that, but it wasn’t just the anger at Rick Perry. Two years earlier it had been Arizona SB 1070 – the new law that made it a state misdemeanor crime for an alien to be in Arizona without carrying the required federal documents, on his or her person, at all times. Republican Governor Janet Brewer and her Republican legislature had pushed that through. All state law enforcement officers were required to attempt to determine any shady looking person’s immigration status, when there was even the slightest reasonable suspicion that the individual was an illegal immigrant. You could tell by looking at them. The police could stop anyone and demand their papers. The paragraph on intent in the legislation said it embodied an “attrition through enforcement” doctrine. That may be where Mitt Romney got the idea.
The Supreme Court soon shot down almost all of this law’s provisions, but the damage was done. Even the NFL had said there’d never be another Super Bowl in Arizona. As for baseball, it would have been cool if the state police had arrested and detained the hot Hispanic stars of visiting ball clubs, holding them until these guys could produce certified copies of the right papers. The Diamondbacks might have won a few more games – but the whole thing was over before it started. Only the bad aftertaste remained.
That was the problem. Romney won only twenty-seven percent of the Hispanic votes – down from John McCain’s thirty-one percent in 2008 – down from George W. Bush’s forty-four percent in 2004 – the best the party had ever done with these people. They bought that guy’s compassionate conservatism line, but maybe it wasn’t a line:
From his first days as governor, Bush signaled that Mexico was not the enemy. He invited the governors of the five Mexican states closest to Texas to his inauguration and in his speech that day welcomed them, saying, “Friends bring out the best in each other. May our friendship bring much good to both our countries.”
The Texas GOP actively recruited Latinos into the party ranks. Continued outreach – emphasizing inclusion and respect for Latinos – helped the party achieve dominance in a state in which Latinos now approach 40% of the population.
No Democrat has won statewide office in Texas since 1994. As for Bush, he was reelected president in 2004 with one of the highest vote percentages among Latinos ever achieved by a Republican.
That explains what Rick Perry was doing in that 2011 Tea Party Debate. He was Governor of Texas. He was a Republican. He was doing what his Republican predecessor had done, and they booed him.
The party had changed. In 2010, the party had welcomed in those “tea party” folks and now they had their say. Republicans discovered that it wasn’t their party anymore. Citizens Untied had unleased the funds of a handful of libertarian billionaires with their own specific agendas, and they could outspend the party’s carefully amassed campaign funds, ten to one, with one check that was chump-change to them. The Republican Party was just one more tool to arrange things the way they wanted them arranged. The Republican Party everyone knew was gone. Donald Trump, the Tea Party Billionaire, was inevitable.
This is a good thing. He will force the issues, and specifically the immigration-reform issues. There will be no more Mitt Romney half-measures like self-deportation. In an interview with CNN Trump went all the way, explicitly pledging to carry out the mass deportation of all undocumented immigrants, every damned one of them:
Trump said Wednesday, in an interview with CNN’s Dana Bash, that as president he would deport all undocumented immigrants and then allow the “good ones” to reenter the country through an “expedited process” and live in the U.S. legally, though not as citizens.
“Legal status,” Trump suggested. “We got to move ’em out, we’re going to move ’em back in if they’re really good people.”…
Trump would not say how he would locate, round up and deport the 11 million undocumented immigrants he says must go. Instead, he deflected, saying that while it may be a task too tall for politicians, it isn’t for a business mogul like himself.
“Politicians aren’t going to find them because they have no clue. We will find them, we will get them out,” Trump said. “It’s feasible if you know how to manage. Politicians don’t know how to manage.”
And when asked about whether he would deport undocumented immigrants who came to the U.S. as children, Trump fumbled and said, unsure, that “it’s a tough situation” and “it depends.”
Okay, not every damned one of them, but close enough, and he’d move a few of them back in “if they’re really good people” – so here his experience producing beauty pageants – Miss USA and Miss Universe (but not Miss America) – would be useful too. He’s got this covered on both ends. But first you deport them all.
Ed Kilgore laughs at him:
Yeah, sure: it’s just a management problem, and any tycoon worth his salt can figure out a way via universal hourly traffic stops and police raids on workplaces and maybe house-to-house searches to “find them,” and then it’s just a matter of setting up a few thousand transit camps and deploying a few hundreds of thousands of cattle cars to round ’em up and “get them out.”
It’s not like that:
Estimates of the cost of mass deportation of the undocumented start at about $265 billion and range on up from there; one key variable is whether a sufficiently terroristic atmosphere would encourage some of these people to “self-deport,” as Mitt Romney surmised. Trump might even claim some of these folk will self-deport to get a prime place in the line to reenter the country as a permanent helot class if they pass muster. In any event, it would indeed make this country a very different place.
But this does offer other Republicans a chance to say where they really stand:
Now that Trump’s forced this issue right out in the open, it’s time for us all to ask him and other Republicans who won’t endorse a path to legalization exactly how much they are willing to spend in money and in lost civil liberties to implement their plans. No sense weaseling around and dog-whistling this issue any more.
That’s a challenge, and Greg Sargent actually sees that as useful:
One wonders how large a Cattle Car Caucus there really is in Congress. Republicans have voted to roll back Obama’s executive actions shielding millions from deportations, but many have premised their opposition on legalistic and separation-of-powers grounds, which is a legitimate case to make (the courts may side with it), even if one disagrees with it. But broadly speaking, Republicans who oppose legalization have not been meaningfully pressed on the full implications of that opposition, i.e., do they believe all of the undocumented should be removed? If so, how do we go about doing this? If not, do we just leave them in the shadows, and why would that be better for the country than legalization with penalties would be?
And on that score, Ed is right to hope that Trump has now forced this issue out into the open. Indeed, one hopes that the moderators of the upcoming GOP debate will see an opportunity in Trump’s cattle car musings: why not ask all the GOP candidates whether they agree with him? And if not, where do they stand on the 11 million exactly? Remember, Mitt Romney’s big “self-deportation” moment came at a GOP primary debate. So perhaps the moderators will see an opportunity here to make a similarly newsy splash.
It seems that Donald Trump may have actually done the party some good:
A discussion of this topic could prove very valuable. It’s a discussion you’d think conservatives would want, too. It’s certainly possible you could see Ted Cruz and Trump use such a discussion to try to knock Jeb Bush down a few pegs. Both Cruz and Trump favor legal immigration, and perhaps they could continue advocating for that while insisting that the rule of law requires removal of all illegal immigrants. But it’s not at all clear how many GOP candidates would agree with Trump here.
What about Scott Walker? He has previously supported comprehensive immigration reform but has since moved to the right on the issue, and he has also said undocumented immigrants need to return to their “country of origin and then get in line.” So he may demur and say he supports legal status, once the border is secured. What about Marco Rubio, who championed the Senate bill, but is now in the border-security-first camp? Maybe somewhere to the left of that…
And Jeb Bush? Well, given that he has already called on fellow Republicans to allow that most illegal immigrants face a morally complex plight – and that they have something positive to contribute to American life – this could perhaps provide him an occasion to stage the grand confrontation with Trump that some Republicans think is inevitable.
It would also be really interesting to see how GOP primary voters react to such a discussion. One recent poll showed that 63 percent of Republicans want the focus of immigration policy to be not on legalization, but on “stopping the flow of illegal immigrants into the U.S.” and “deporting those already here.” That finding may have been inflated by the border security component of this question wording; a discussion of these issues could help flesh out where Republican voters really are on them.
We all want to know, and Hispanic voters certainly want to know, so, finally, clarification is possible:
The point is that eventually, we’ll need to hear from all the GOP candidates as to what they would do about the 11 million – beyond vaguely supporting legal status, but only after some future point at which we’ve attained a Platonic ideal of border security. Trump may have just made it more likely that this moment will come sooner, rather than later. One can hope, anyway.
Trump just made that hope possible. Salon’s Simon Maloy isn’t so sure:
A couple of weeks ago Univision released a poll that should have sent a piercing shiver of dread through the heart of every Republican who cares about the party’s long-term electoral health. The Spanish-language media outlet asked Latino voters whom they’d support in hypothetical match-ups between the leading Republican presidential candidates and Hillary Clinton, and the GOP’s best-performing candidate – Jeb Bush – did no better among Latinos than Mitt Romney did in 2012. The poll was a grim reminder that the GOP’s fits-and-starts attempts at “rebranding” have not succeeded at measurably improving its standing among one of the fastest growing electoral demographics in the country.
The flip side to the GOP’s problem with appealing to Latino voters is the rather intractable hostility its base shows toward undocumented immigrants… a new poll from CNN finds a huge gap between Republicans and the rest of the country when it comes to immigration policy. By a wide margin, 56-42, Americans believe the “focus” of U.S. immigration policy should be finding a way to provide some form of legal status for undocumented immigrants in the country. Republicans, however, believe by a 63-34 margin that the lawmakers should be “developing a plan for stopping the flow of illegal immigrants into the U.S. and for deporting those already here.” It’s a bit of a dodgy question, given that it lumps together two different outcomes – reduced flow of immigrants and mass deportation – into one policy preference. But other polling shows “a majority of Republicans does not think the undocumented should be allowed to live and work here even if they pay a fine and meet other requirements.”
Nothing has changed:
Back in early 2014, CNN asked this same question and observed a similar result – Democrats and Independents strongly favored legalization, while Republicans backed decreased immigration and increased deportation 62-34. Several months later, at the height of the summer 2014 border crisis when the country’s attention was focused on the many thousands of unaccompanied Central American minors crossing over the southern border, CNN put another poll out in the field. Perhaps not surprisingly, it found that Republican opposition to immigration/support for deportation spiked – 76 percent of Republicans favored the hardline position on immigration, compared to just 23 percent who favored legalization. So not only is the GOP’s baseline for opposition to immigration reform high, they also have a large number of voters who can be pushed into opposition when an immigration-related controversy is dominating the headlines.
That’s significant in that it will necessarily restrict what sort of legislation the party can propose and get passed.
That’s the real issue here:
The nativists in Congress capitalized on anti-immigrant sentiment during the 2014 border crisis to completely hijack the GOP’s immigration policy and drive it hard to the right. If you’ll recall, the House GOP tried to pass legislation expediting the deportation of those unaccompanied minors, but the leadership was stymied by conservatives who also wanted to defund the president’s executive actions protecting undocumented kids brought into the country as minors. The leadership caved to the hardliners, and the House passed a bill that would have exposed as many people as possible to deportation, in keeping with the overwhelming preference of the Republican base.
That same cadre of immigration hardliners tipped the Republican-controlled Congress into a losing fight over Homeland Security funding earlier this year. Then they sabotaged another border security bill, arguing that it didn’t do enough to deport immigrants already in the country. The only legislation that would stand any chance of passage in the current environment is the most draconian “border security” measure you can think of, and even then there will be lawmakers complaining that “securing the border” is just a prelude to the dreaded “amnesty.”
That’s a serious problem this time around:
The immigration agenda of Republicans in Congress – which is aggressively anti-immigrant and thoroughly unrealistic in its goals and implementation – lines up pretty well with the expectations of Republican base voters. 2016 GOP candidates will be under intense pressure to speak the language of the base on immigration, especially if something like last summer’s border crisis causes immigration to flare up as an issue during the primaries. Doing so will help perpetuate the party’s decline with Latino voters and alienate the other large segments of the electorate that favor a more moderate approach to immigration. There is no good option, which explains why some candidates are trying – and failing – to play both sides.
That didn’t work for Romney in 2012, and now Donald Trump has forced the issue. This is going to be interesting. That fellow is useful after all. Now we’ll know what each of the others thinks should actually be done. That’s all anyone wanted to know in the first place.