Immigration at the GOP Debate

by Ryan Campbell | November 11, 2015

I’ll have to admit, I was a bit surprised by the most recent GOP debate: not only did immigration appear, but it did so several times, and the heated exchange over immigration became one of the most detailed, substantive parts of the discussion.  What does this mean for the individual candidates on the stage, and what does it mean for the direction of the GOP in the primaries?

From the beginning, Trump has been harsh on immigration: he got his start by calling Mexicans drug dealers and rapists, softening this only by assuring us that some, he assumes, are good people.  Ignoring the fact that there has not been a net increase in undocumented immigration from Mexico due to the upturn in the Mexican economy, this is still pretty bad for obvious reasons.

The harshness has not stopped, however: his main points on immigration seem to be to build a wall across the entire southern border, and then reinstate Eisenhower’s “Operation Wetback” to deport 11 million people.

Eisenhower’s program only deported around 10% of the number of undocumented immigrants we have today, however, and ignoring the human rights costs the sheer logistics of moving roughly the population of Ohio simply don’t work.  Not only that, but so many people were dumped in the middle of the desert, around 88 people died of exposure to the elements, while many others were put onto cargo ships under conditions reminiscent of the 1800’s slave trade.

If anything, Trump seems to be echoing the sentiment of the furthest right elements within the GOP whose only goal is ideological purity, even at the cost of putting forward plans that they themselves know are completely impracticable.

When Trump made his argument about a wall and mass deportations, Kasich and Bush were both quick to jump in, with perhaps Kasich had the most relevant argument: “Think about the families; think about the children… Come one, folks, we know you can’t pick them up and ship them across the border.  It’s a silly argument.  It’s not an adult argument.” Bush, meanwhile, strongly backed him up, saying that Trump’s plan would “tear communities apart.”

Despite the fireworks between Trump, Cruz, Kasich and Bush, there was a conspicuous silence from Carson and Rubio; Rubio is, afterall, one of the Senators who initially pushed (but then very publically bailed on) the Gang of 8 immigration legislation, while Carlson is neck and neck with Trump for the #1 spot.  In an interview this morning on The Today Show, however, Marco Rubio’s central quote was that Latinos wanted to “bring illegal immigration under control.”

Much like Ted Cruz, Rubio is angling to position himself to absorb Trump’s primary voters when he eventually flames out, perhaps because he has little to say other than “we don’t win anymore,” perhaps because his tone deafness on women’s place in society, perhaps because he openly insults people who have legitimate disagreements with him… there’s a lot of options to choose from that I don’t have enough space to list, but it is hard to see him (or Ben Carlson) ultimately winning the nomination.

It’s difficult to see where this is going, but my guess would be that it will end up like the 2012 race: a “moderate” candidate like Marco Rubio will emerge to lead a brand that has been so thoroughly destroyed by the primaries that there will be no way to avoid an epic spanking, neither for the presidency, nor for those running down ticket for Congress.  On the plus side, we will get more moderate governance than we have seen since the midterms, and hopefully get to watch Karl Rove have another on-air meltdown as he cannot believe the numbers coming in.

At this rate, Republicans will continue to dominate off-year elections with small-minded voters who also show up for primaries, but will not see the inside of the White House outside of a tour until they get their shit together.  I wonder if Reince Priebus will authorize another “Autopsy Report” to yet again tell them the obvious when the smoke and carnage clears?