Last week, The Pulse’s Carlos Mercader ended a summary of the recent fiasco surrounding Donald Trump’s ill-advised comments on illegal immigration with an urgent warning: if Republican candidates did not “loudly condemn the incorrect and offensive characterization [Trump] has made of the Hispanic community,” the GOP risked allowing the perception to grow that the Republican Party is anti-Hispanic. If left unchallenged, Trump’s remarks could spell an early doom for Republican chances to take back the White House in 2016.
Fortunately, in the days since, many candidates have seemingly taken this advice to heart, issuing strong denunciations of Trump’s words and making it clear that his comments do not represent the consensus Republican view on the issue.
This was the unequivocal message, for example, from Jeb Bush, who spoke to reporters about Trump on Saturday:
“I don’t think he represents the Republican Party, and his views are way out of the mainstream of what Republicans think,” Bush said. “No one suggests that we shouldn’t control our borders – everybody has a belief that we should control our borders. But to make these extraordinarily ugly kind of comments is not reflective of the Republican Party. Trump is wrong on this.”
“He’s doing this to inflame and to incite and to get to draw attention which just seems to be the organization principle of his campaign. It doesn’t represent the Republican Party or its values,” Bush added.
Other candidates agreed with Bush’s assessment. On Sunday, Rick Perry called Trump’s remarks “offensive” during an interview on ABC News’ “The Week”:
[T]he fact is I’ve said very clearly that Donald Trump does not represent the Republican Party. I was offended by his remarks.
Listen, Hispanics in America and Hispanics in Texas, from the Alamo to Afghanistan, have been extraordinary people, citizens of our country and of our state. They have served nobly.
And to paint with that broad a brush that Donald Trump did is — I mean he’s going to have to defend those remarks. I never will. And I will stand up and say that those are offensive, which they were.
Sen. Marco Rubio also described Trump’s comments as “offensive” in a short statement he released late last week:
Trump’s comments are not just offensive and inaccurate, but also divisive. Our next president needs to be someone who brings Americans together – not someone who continues to divide. Our broken immigration system is something that needs to be solved, and comments like this move us further from – not closer to – a solution. We need leaders who offer serious solutions to secure our border and fix our broken immigration system.
Speaking at a New Hampshire event, Gov. Chris Christie said Trump’s words were “inappropriate” and said that they have “no place in this race.” And on Monday, Sen. Lindsey Graham became the latest candidate to weigh in, mirroring the comments of his fellow GOP hopefuls:
“Just put yourself in the shoes of the people he’s talking about,” Graham said. “We have 11 million illegal immigrants. Some of them commit crimes, most of them are hardworking decent people. And when you paint an entire group of people broadly, you’re not helping yourself, you’re not helping the cause.
“You know, a lot of major companies have let him go because they think it hurts their ability to sell products. And if it hurts your ability to sell products it’s probably not helping the party. But at the end of the day illegal immigration is a frustrating issue. I’ve tried to solve it for a decade, but when you refer to people the way he did, I think it’s hurtful and not helpful.”
Unfortunately, however, not every GOP candidate has been willing to tackle Trump’s comments so forcefully. During his Sunday appearance on CBS’ “Face of the Nation,” for example, Rick Santorum made a weak attempt to distance himself from Trump even as he uncharitably attributed “bad intent” to the actions of all illegal immigrants:
“While I don’t like the verbiage he’s used, I like the fact that he is focused on a very important issue for American workers and particularly, legal immigrants in this country,” Santorum, the former Pennsylvania senator and presidential candidate said on CBS’ “Face the Nation” Sunday.
“People who are coming illegally, obviously, are coming with a bad intent, let’s just be honest. They’re coming with the clear intent of breaking the law. I don’t think we can sugar coat that, but that doesn’t mean that everybody who’s coming across is a rapist or a murderer or anything else,” Santorum said. “I think Donald points to a very important thing, which is we have a serious problem of illegal immigration in this country that is undermining American workers: by flattening out wages and lowering the standard of living for those in the U.S. legally.
But he also said, “I certainly wouldn’t have said those things. I don’t agree with his comments, obviously.”
Dr. Ben Carson declined to even criticize Trump, blaming the firestorm on “the P.C. police” who “want to make very clear this is a topic you’re not supposed to bring up.” Even Carson stopped short of commending Trump, however, which is exactly what Sen. Ted Cruz did during an interview on “Meet the Press”:
“I salute Donald Trump for focusing on the need to address illegal immigration. The Washington cartel doesn’t want to address that,” Cruz said…
“I like Donald Trump,” Cruz said Sunday. “He’s bold. He’s brash. And I get that it seems the favorite sport of the Washington media is to encourage some Republicans to attack other Republicans. I ain’t gonna do it. I’m not interested in Republican-on-Republican violence.”
While Cruz is certainly right that immigration is an issue which needs to be addressed, Trump’s comments have certainly not been positive contributions to the cause of addressing it. By attempting to create a scapegoat for the backlash out of the media, Cruz (and Carson) seems more interested in pandering to a small but vocal portion of the electorate than making a case that he can construct a winning coalition in 2016.
If there is one silver lining to be found in the whole Trump episode, it is that he is making it very difficult for the rest of the Republican candidates to maintain any ambiguity on the immigration issue. For GOP voters looking for a candidate with a realistic immigration approach, this is good news indeed.
Paul Dupont is a legislative assistant for American Principles in Action.