New York Magazine's Jonathan Chait suggests that Donald Trump's presidential campaign is forcing the party to address the issue of immigration in a way that will hurt the eventual GOP nominee's chances
in the 2016 general election:
The worst-case scenario for Republicans is if Trump decides to run a third-party campaign. Even managing to get his name on the ballot in a handful of states would bring victory out of reach for the GOP’s eventual nominee. The best-case scenario is that Trump straggles through the race, eventually supporting the nominee. But this scenario is also far from ideal. It means that Trump has shaped the tenor of the race in almost precisely the opposite way the party establishment had hoped.
Immigration did not represent the totality of the party elite’s strategic response to the 2012 election, but it did constitute its main tenet. The Republican brain trust hoped to resolve its image problem with Latino and Asian-American voters by passing immigration reform as quickly as possible. The purest version of this strategy, articulated by Charles Krauthammer, called for Republicans to fold completely on immigration, and change nothing else about their program. The idea was to take the short-term hit as quickly as possible after the midterms, allowing the base to vent its spleen and make up in time for the presidential campaign. Republicans in the Senate were able to make this happen, but the House proved typically impotent in the face of opposition.
In the wake of this failure, Republicans have vaguely hoped to finesse the issue. Trump is making that difficult. His arch-restrictionist plan — involving mass deportations and a gigantic wall on the Mexican border that Trump, through the use of his uniquely Trumpian negotiating power, would make Mexico finance — has set a standard against which others will be judged. Scott Walker is already bellying up to the bar, comparing himself to the polling leader (“I haven’t looked at all the details of his, but the things I’ve heard are very similar to the things I mentioned"). Given that Trump has made himself the symbol of racism against Mexicans, it is difficult to imagine a simple escape from the party’s branding disasters of the Obama era. But that is what they have, and what they may well continue to have, well into 2016.
Slate's Jamelle Bouie makes a similar point:
Trump might be a joke, but his plan is not. If implemented, it would bring tremendous suffering to millions of Americans—native-born, naturalized, or otherwise. But because it speaks to the Republican base—in a new CNN poll, 44 percent of self-described Republicans and Republican-leaning independents agree with Trump on “illegal immigration”—it’s getting a fair hearing from serious conservatives.
Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker said his immigration plan was “similar” to Trump’s; that he would support building a wall along the Mexican border; and that he would consider “changing the rules” on birthright citizenship. Other candidates, like John Kasich and Chris Christie, have echoed Trump’s views on birthright citizenship. Likewise, the editors of National Review called it a “good start” that’s “sensible in its basic outline and better in many respects than the ideas presented by his rivals.”
Nearly three years ago, after the 2012 election, Republican leaders urged a new approach for the party on immigration. They urged inclusive rhetoric and policies to match. They didn’t get far, and a grassroots backlash killed the GOP plan for reform. Now, with Trump, they’ve come full circle. Outreach and persuasion is out for good. Antagonism is the new plan.