The confrontation between Donald Trump and John Kasich in Tuesday night’s Republican debate over immigration was telling—not because they shared practical solutions, but for what it revealed about how each views the country and its ideals…
This wasn’t simply a policy dispute, but a fight over premises. In his remarks, Trump implied that being an American is a privilege, not a right. His argument against undocumented immigrants implicitly rejects the notion that the U.S. benefits from such immigration, or is morally committed to offering opportunity…
Meanwhile, Kasich’s approach to immigration rests on a different set of principles. In his remarks, he stressed the pain deportation would inflict on families, which could be torn apart. His opposition to Trump’s scheme was framed as humane and pragmatic.
Jeb Bush, by contrast, appealed to principle. The former Florida governor has supported a pathway to citizenship and, on many occasions, worked to appeal to Hispanic voters, either by speaking Spanish or citing his ties to the community through his family. So it comes as no surprise that when pressed on immigration he would offer a principled response: Sending millions of people back to Mexico is “not embracing American values.”
Soon after the debate finished, NumbersUSA President, Roy Beck, issued this statement:
In a debate night devoted to economics, only Ted Cruz treated immigration as an economic issue that can harm the lives of ordinary American wage-earners. He surprised me by — for the first time in my memory — showing some real passion about the millions of working men and women whose wages and employment opportunities are limited by uncontrolled immigration.
And Cruz single-handedly stopped a pro-amnesty wave from swamping the debate stage through John Kasich and Jeb Bush. At the moment it looked like the GOP establishment was winning back the presidential contest for its long-time pro-amnesty crusade, Cruz forcefully declared that if the Republican Party becomes a party of amnesty it will lose.
But for Republicans to convince enough wage-earners to give them the votes to win, they will have to do more than oppose amnesty and will have to talk more like Rick Santorum usually does and like Cruz did tonight about the economic benefits of less competition from foreign workers.
Without calling out his Senate colleague by name, Cruz twice took subtle digs at Rubio during the Fox Business Network debate. At one point, he warned against Republicans who would turn the GOP into “the party of amnesty” — without specifically mentioning that Rubio had championed a bill that would have provided undocumented immigrants a pathway to citizenship…
“Our record on amnesty is clear and consistent and [Rubio’s] is not as clear and consistent,” [Cruz spokesman Rick] Tyler said. “He was for the Gang of Eight bill, then he said he wasn’t. Then he said he was for a step-by-step approach.” He continued to list the litany of alleged flip-flops before concluding of Rubio, “He essentially has the same position as the president.”
“I think for voters that are looking for someone who’s consistent and true, I’m the only one on that stage who’s always opposed amnesty,” Mr. Cruz said in an interview on Fox News after the debate, underlining his opposition to the bipartisan immigration bill that Mr. Rubio helped write in the Senate.
After avoiding the immigration issue on Tuesday night, Mr. Rubio addressed it in an interview on Wednesday, telling Fox News that he understood why the immigration proposal — which has cost him support on the right — was the wrong approach.
“The lesson I learned from that is the people of the United States do not trust the federal government on immigration,” Mr. Rubio said as he listed a tough set of policies he said would “realistically but responsibly” address the problem.
Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida, a 2016 Republican presidential candidate, said Wednesday the belief that the Hispanic community in the United States supports illegal immigration is “just not true.”
“You know, this belief that the Hispanic community is in favor of illegal immigration is false — it’s just not true,” Mr. Rubio said on NBC’s “Today” program. “Hispanic communities are deeply impacted by illegal immigration, and there are millions of Hispanics in this country who have either come legally or who have relatives that are waiting to come legally.”…
Mr. Rubio said Wednesday he thinks all Americans want to see the country’s immigration system work better.
Republicans need to make gains with Hispanic voters in 2016, but that reality is complicated by the fact that more adults support Donald Trump’s hard-line stance on immigration, a new Economist Group/YouGov Poll finds.
Cruz’s answer is important because, of the five main-stage GOP candidates who are actually politicians by trade, four have made it clear that they back a Wall Street Journal-friendly immigration policy. The question has been whether anyone would speak for the 86 percent of Americans who, according to Gallup, either want immigration levels to remain the same (47 percent) or decrease (39 percent). (Only 7 percent want to see them increase.)
True, Cruz didn’t say anything specific about overall immigration levels. But by going out of his way to address this issue, and by responding with a compelling focus on American workers and the hypocrisy of the ruling class, Cruz has now sent a pretty clear signal that he is separating himself from the rest of the (current or former) elected-officeholder portion of the GOP field on an issue that resonates with most Americans living outside of the Washington, D.C.-New York City corridor, and particularly with most Republicans.
As for Bush’s claim that if Republicans fail to join the Democrats on this issue, it will be toxic for the GOP, the evidence—even apart from polling—suggests otherwise. In the run-up to the 2014 election, in which Republicans won nine new Senate seats, the three biggest issues on which Republican ads dwarfed Democratic ads were, in order, Obamacare, federal spending, and immigration. So, among those who were in the stretch drive of an election campaign, the calculation on the part of Democratic and Republican campaigns alike was that immigration was a winning issue for Republicans.
The Harvard economist George Borjas, who is widely considered authoritative on the question of how immigration affects the American economy, would surely disagree with Cruz’s implication that unauthorized immigrants are the key culprit behind the “economic calamity” millions of native-born workers are facing. Though Cruz was correct to say that not all critics of immigration (or immigration reform) are bigots, he’s going to be in for a rude awakening if he thinks that none of them are, assuming he does manage to bring Trump’s supporters into his fold at some point.
Still, Cruz’s premises are reassuringly sound. Illegal immigration to the United States is, for the most part, an economic phenomenon. As I wrote in August, it’s been ominous to see so many Texas Republicans abandon that sanguine view of the subject lately; I was happy to see Cruz embrace it. It also struck me as auspicious that he corroborated a couple of conservative concerns on the subject. Barack Obama has often cast immigration reform as a moral imperative, and those of us who would like to see Congress pass comprehensive immigration reform would probably agree that America’s approach to immigration has moral implications. But a priori ethics are only going to get us so far. Illegal immigration is an economic issue, not a theological one. The conservative concerns Cruz referenced have moral implications too, and any president who wants to fix the system should be prepared to address them.
Obama took an alternative approach, and as the Fifth Circuit reminded us on Monday, it was a suboptimal one; even if the Supreme Court reverses the Fifth Circuit’s ruling, and allows Obama’s immigration program to be implemented, any presidential program is necessarily less durable than an act of Congress. With his skillful, smart performance last night, Cruz dramatized a political risk that Democrats had no real way of anticipating.