Hard Truth for the GOP from its Base

The failure of the Republican presidential field (with one notable exception) to stand with its own voters on the burning issue of our time -- mass uncontrolled and unresisted illegal immigration to America -- is one of the most infuriating examples of electoral incompetence in living memory. Not only is this issue central to the concerns of an overwhelming majority of regular Republican and conservative voters, but it is the issue most likely to carve off substantial numbers of regular Democratic voters.  In short, vigorously opposing the ongoing, unprecedented, presidentially invited and abetted invasion of America across its southern border is not only obviously the right policy for the country on its merits, but very possibly the only issue with the potential to carry the Republican nominee not merely to victory but to decisive victory.

In America as in Europe, electoral necessity has placed the Left on the wrong side of illegal immigration for a perilously significant number of its own voters. In America many of those voters are there for the taking -- in Iowa, in Ohio, in Virginia, in Colorado, in Florida, to name but a few not insignificant places -- but the question, as always since Reagan, is whether the Republican Party wants to win the presidency or to lose politely.

In unmistakably blunt language, all the Republican candidates should be declaring the following:

  1. That our border to the south must be secured, whatever it takes, as an absolute, non-negotiable prerequisite to discussing how to deal with the tens of millions who are already here illegally.  The idea that real border security is unachievable is facially absurd to the American people, as is the morally spurious argument that any nation needs to apologize for defending its own borders or establishing its own immigration criteria.
  2. That, after election, the new Republican president will not, under any circumstances, grant any form of blanket amnesty to those who have entered the country in violation of our laws, and that he will work to achieve a complete reversal of the illegal and unconstitutional executive amnesty already granted by President Obama (which Hillary Clinton promises to uphold and enforce).
  3. That our immigration laws do indeed need comprehensive reform, but not the kind of “reform” the Democrats want, where millions of impoverished uneducated future government dependents are taken in and distributed among key states until the country becomes a dependable one party nation -- the 1965 Immigration Act has indeed done its work. We need a new immigration law that will favor assimilable immigrants, possessing skills and education that improve the competitiveness of the American economy and meet real needs.

None of the foregoing should be even remotely controversial in a well run, first world republic that wants to continue being one. None of it would be controversial to about 75% of the electorate.  All of it would be music to the ears, not only of virtually the entire voter base of the Republican Party but to substantial numbers of regular Democratic voters, both of whom see the connection between mass low skilled illegal immigration, on the one hand, and low wages, declining schools and neighborhoods, and increased crime on the other.

In failing to address this enormous and potentially decisive issue, the Republican field has single-handedly created its Trump headache. It is Politics 1A that when an issue of great concern to a party’s voters is ignored, that issue will be latched onto by someone. Here, predictably, it was picked up by The Donald, who now, instead of paying the price for a lifetime spent creating the image of a self-promoter, has instead grown into a hero to millions of Americans desperately eager to hear someone, anyone, say what they think about out-of-control illegal immigration.

If this issue had been appropriately addressed by a non-marginal candidate, instead of Trump (Walker comes to mind), that candidate would now be substantially farther ahead in the polls than Trump, while Trump would still be near the bottom.

By its silence, timidity and wrong-headedness on illegal immigration the Republican field has created a twofold danger.  First, that, in stumbling over themselves to respond to Trump, they will make statements appearing to align themselves with the enormously unpopular illegal immigration policies of the Obama administration.  In consequence of that, their ultimate candidate will lose much of the electoral benefit that might have accrued as a result of those policies.  Second, that the present public discussion of the issue, in which the Republican candidates are seen as pro-illegal rather than anti Obama and the Democrats, will so deeply offend many regular Republican voters that they do not vote in 2016.  Either effect would be potentially lethal to Republican presidential prospects in 2016. Ask Mitt Romney how many more votes in Florida, Ohio, Virginia, Iowa, and Colorado he needed in order to be addressed now as “Mr. President.”

The risk of losing conservative voters is always discounted by the leadership of the Republican Party; but that risk is real and has materialized to great ill effect in the historically recent past. Romney in 2012 may be debatable, but George H. W. Bush in 1992 is clear.  In 1992, the senior Bush managed to alienate enough regular Republican voters by raising taxes in the teeth of his categorical pledge not to that they voted for a less credible third Party candidate than Trump would be.  This caused the elder Bush to lose to an obscure, scandal-plagued small state governor who received only the bare Democratic Party base vote (43%). Sadly for the great American Middle, the Bush family’s past could be prologue for America.

The illegal immigration issue is at least as significant today to Republican voters as taxes were in 1992.  More ominous still are the two principal characteristics of the debate over that issue in the Republican Party. 1.  Solid opposition to the present obviously out of control illegal immigration into America, promoted by Obama the Democratic Party, is the overwhelming position of the Party’s regular voters. 2.  Acceptance of that invasion appears to be the position of the Party’s elite.  This kind of chasm between Party voters and leadership on an issue of enormous significance is unprecedented at the major party level. Its consequences are unknowable but they cannot be good for Republicans.   

This article is premised on an obvious truth that will not be argued at length here: That firm opposition to mass illegal immigration, or to compromising with it, which is widely seen as changing America dramatically, rapidly and for the worse, is the dominant viewpoint among the US electorate as whole.  That includes -- of special importance -- a minority of regular Democratic voters.  This is obvious to all who live in and associate with the US middle and working classes (therefore, it is not obvious to the Republican Party elite).  To those who know America this truth requires no polls to be proved.

To argue the contrary, highly paid Republican consultants -- dependent on the good will of the candidates, who are dependent on the good will of corporate donors, who in turn seek an unending supply of cheap labor -- will point to polls containing tendentiously phrased questions. They are dead wrong.  If questions are asked in the form, “Do you support a path to citizenship for nice people who have lived and worked hard in America for twenty years and have children who have done the same,” answers can be obtained that the questioners are looking for.  If questions are framed as the American middle and working classes experience their lives, and as they should be articulated the 2016 fall campaign, the real views of the electorate will emerge.

For example:

“Do you believe America’s border with Mexico should be secured?”

“Do you believe that America’s border with Mexico should be secured before discussing how to deal with the millions of people who are now here illegally?”

“Do you believe that people who enter our country illegally should receive taxpayer funded public benefits?”

“Do you believe that people who enter our country illegally should be permitted to vote?”

“Do you believe that low skilled illegal immigrants drive wages down and reduce job opportunities for American workers?”

“Do you believe that American workers should be preferred for good jobs over illegal immigrants who are willing to work for less?”

“Do you believe that the public schools are better or worse in your area because of the presence of large numbers of non-English speaking illegal immigrants?” 

The possibilities of poll questioning on immigration that track Americans’ thoughts, experiences and -- critically -- potential campaign themes are legion.  But don’t look for either Gallup or the Republican candidates to do this work. Gallup isn’t interested, and the Republican field doesn’t want to know the answers, which would be unwelcome to corporate donors.

The Republican field is frozen in error by lack of either vision or courage on this issue, and by its need to please its corporate donors.  These corporate donors want cheaper labor forever and delude themselves about the not far off social and political consequences of massive illegal immigration. After all, those consequences will reach them later than they do the rest of us -- they have not shown up yet in the gated communities, elite private schools, high-income jobs and country clubs of the nation’s governing class.  Only the Democratic Party knows what is really happening, and it appears destined to get exactly what it wants: A few hundred thousand more dependable client voters in a bunch of key states, after which it can rest easily in the certainty of victory in every presidential election for the next half century.

Meanwhile, the great American middle is still there for the taking on the illegal immigration issue.  It waits for an articulate and courageous champion who will tell the truth about the catastrophic consequences of our current chaotic system of unrestricted immigration and open borders. The significance of the previously unserious Trump’s stratospheric rise -- on this issue alone -- should get through even the thickest skull. 

The 2016 presidential election hangs in the balance much earlier than usual.