Jim Newell of Slate reports this week that the serious Republican presidential contenders seem to be coalescing around a singular message on immigration, an issue which has divided GOP members in the past:
Not so long ago, immigration was considered the most divisive issue within the Republican party, pitting Chamber of Commerce-type Republicans at odds with the Tea Party, conservative movement base. But right now, it may be the area where presidential candidates are most in agreement: Secure the border and then we’ll talk about legal status. Undo President Obama’s actions on immigration for overstepping executive boundaries. And certainly never, ever call this “amnesty.” A path to “legal status” would certainly have counted as “amnesty” under the GOP’s midterm-cycle definition, when “amnesty” meant anything short of maximal deportation policy. Now that it’s a presidential election, the party has an electoral interest in not going completely out of its way to scare away Hispanic and Asian Americans.
Immigration was expected to be a make-or-break topic for candidates, but for now, it’s been de-weaponized as a wedge issue. This is a fantastic turn of events for Jeb Bush and Marco Rubio, the two candidates with the most heretical biographies on immigration. Everyone’s more or less on the same page now. It’s playing out to be a wash.
It may be a bit premature to proclaim that Republicans have settled their major differences on immigration, but there does seem to be some level of convergence. As Newell points out, the “border security first, legal status later” mantra has been adopted by nearly every leading GOP candidate, including Rand Paul, Jeb Bush, Scott Walker, Marco Rubio, and even Ted Cruz.
While restrictionists will of course be unhappy, this should be seen as a positive development. Adopting a “self-deportation” platform, à la Mitt Romney 2012, or simply decrying “amnesty” were never helpful strategies for addressing the immigration issue, as most voters, indeed most Republican voters, realize that these are not realistic policy proposals. Fortunately, it seems the Republican candidates understand this.
However, while this improved stance is a start, it still leaves much to be desired in terms of fleshing out the details. For example: How do the candidates propose we go about securing the border? What would an eventual path to legal status for undocumented immigrants look like? These are the important questions which need to be answered, and the first candidate to put forward a serious plan which answers these questions could be the candidate who sets himself or herself apart from the rest of the field.
Paul Dupont is a legislative assistant for American Principles in Action.