With an extra dollop of venom and a reaffirmation of his harebrained schemes on immigration, Donald Trump’s speech pleased an odd collection of people. Those rooting for Trump to adhere to his unhinged anti-immigrant rhetoric let out a collective war whoop that resonated across social media.
The anti-immigration right that opposes all sensible immigration reform and had feared that it would be abandoned on hugely unpopular (both in the GOP and in the general electorate) positions, such as widespread deportation and building a wall, were spared the indignity of being kicked to the curb. Instead it got a bear hug from the most xenophobic candidate ever to win a major party’s nomination. The groups, pols and media figures who’ve earned their bread and butter with phony economics, fears of an immigrant “flood” (our numbers are historically low) and dreams of fantastical solutions dancing in their heads got the candidate they wanted all along. The schemes they want, however, have been diminished by none other than Trump, who over the past couple of weeks proceeded to make the case against mass deportation before reverting to form. (After listening to Trump deride the expulsion of those who have been here for decades, it is hard to take his original platform seriously.)
Among those cheering the loudest for Trump’s reinvigorated xenophobia are the despicable alt-right, white supremacists and other anti-immigrant groups who have found in Trump a vehicle to popularize their message, especially their insistence on restricting legal immigration. David Duke and anti-immigrant groups such as FAIR were delighted to see Trump hold firm on illegal immigration, but they were even more delighted to see him launch a bevy of schemes designed to choke off the flow of legal immigrants, including refugees. (He proposed, for example, “an ideological certification to make sure that those we are admitting to our country share our values and love our people.” Although immigration is below historic levels, he also proposed “to keep immigration levels, measured by population share, within historical norms. To select immigrants based on their likelihood of success in U.S. society and their ability to be financially self- sufficient.” No word was mentioned about foreign models who marry well.) These individuals see themselves in ascendance and as real players in the GOP, which is political poison for everyone with an “R” after his or her name.
Hillary Clinton surely got what she wanted — Trump’s doubling down on a message that is at odds with three-quarters of the electorate and that makes Trump an anathema to minorities and many college-educated voters. His rant sends more Republicans stampeding to the exits and into the camp of reluctant Clinton voters. The pro-Clinton Republican group R4C16.org put out a written statement denouncing Trump: “This afternoon, Donald Trump said Mexican people are ‘beyond reproach.’ Tonight, he doubled down on the dehumanizing of minorities that has defined his campaign from the start. Trump responded to President [Enrique] Peña Nieto’s courtesy and hospitality with anger towards and fear-mongering of decent, hard-working people. Trump is a charlatan, unfit to be our President.” Trump’s renewed anti-immigrant fervor rekindles conscientious conservatives’ hopes for a bruising Trump loss but also their fears that the GOP is permanently tainted and irreparably divided. A party in which that speech is cheered is one that legions of Republicans must abandon.
Meanwhile, independent conservative Evan McMullin had a chance to shine as well. He tweeted, “[Trump] showed tonight he’s not only divisive—he’s dangerous to American freedoms and values. … The only Trump ‘softening’ today was his silence when Mexico said they wouldn’t pay for his wall.”
Former New Mexico governor Gary Johnson, the Libertarian nominee, got to show his moxie as well. He put out his own dazzling denunciation. “He goes to Mexico for a photo op with President Peña Nieto, claims to have a great meeting, and then flies to Phoenix to deliver the same incendiary message of nativism and divisiveness that he used to launch his campaign a year ago,” he said in a written statement. He added:
All we heard was the same worn out anti-immigrant rhetoric that too many politicians have been using for years. He proposes to perpetuate the immigration quotas that ignore realities and lie at the root of our broken immigration system. He rehashed the unworkable ‘self-deportation’ idea for those millions of undocumented immigrants here already, expecting them to leave their jobs and families and return home to somehow return legally — an idea that has been around for years and thankfully dismissed by those who actually understand how absurd it is. And, ignoring the fact that immigrants commit crimes at lower rates than any other group, he turned up the volume on the ‘blame immigrants first’ language that has derailed real immigration reform for more than decade.
As for his tripled ICE deportation agents, what are they going to do? Go door-to-door in New Mexico? America won’t stand for that.
Not all onlookers were satisfied, to be sure. For pro-immigration Republicans, including Sens. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) and John McCain (R-Ariz.), who won big this week in their primaries, Trump is a mixed blessing at best. One one hand, they will face newly emboldened anti-immigration critics. However, they also have the opportunity to confront the split within the right head-on and demonstrate the superiority of their vision in the November election. Their pro-Trump opponents in the primaries were thumped, suggesting that without Trump, the angry, xenophobic populism has very little sell. If McCain, Rubio and other pro-immigration reformers win reelection while Trump gets handed a definitive loss, it may encourage some soul-searching in the GOP, which has managed to chase away large majorities of the fastest-growing segment of the electorate.
Trump’s diatribe should not, however, please Republicans who want to win back the White House in the short or medium term. It does not please conservative economists who know all too well that immigrants are a boon to the economy and know that the wall is an unworkable and counterproductive boondoggle. It does not please some at-risk, down-ticket Republicans in competitive contests with solid opponents. Trump’s words and positions will be used against them, especially if they opposed immigration reform, to argue that the entire GOP is inhospitable to minorities. It does not please Americans who are fatigued and depressed by histrionics on the topic and more broadly, by irrational politics.
The speech surely did not please some Hispanic Republicans. “Several major Latino surrogates for Donald Trump are reconsidering their support for him following the Republican nominee’s hardline speech on immigration Wednesday night,” Politico reported. “Jacob Monty, a member of Trump’s National Hispanic Advisory Council, has resigned, and Alfonso Aguilar, the president of the Latino Partnership for Conservative Principles, said in an interview that he is ‘inclined’ to pull his support.” As with Mexico’s president, perhaps what Trump told them in private was at odds with what he said publicly.
Finally, Trump’s tone, indifference to the facts and ludicrous proposals (e.g. “extreme vetting” to make sure immigrants “love our people”) lower the political IQ of the country at large and the GOP in particular. In the place of accurate data, he deploys debunked claims (“30 million illegals — No one knows!”). (The Post’s fact checkers report, “A range of experts who study this issue say the margin of error for the 11 million figure may be plus or minus 1 million, but no serious research supports Trumps claim it could be as high as 30 million.”) The style of political discourse in which everyone can simply make up a universe that comports with his or her ideological preferences is one in which rational self-government becomes impossible. The solution to these ills and restoration of healthy political discourse rests with the definitive defeat of Trump. A sobering, clear repudiation of his vision is essential if the country is to address its real problems in a constructive, sane fashion.
In place of a diverse and tolerant party, the GOP continues to morph into the nasty caricature that the left has deployed for decades — a collection of sincere but misguided populists and racist opportunists. The distasteful image that came to life at the Republican National Convention — one that sent Trump’s poll numbers plummeting — is back in high definition, with the volume turned up. That version of the GOP cannot and should not endure.