The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

GOP unity on immigration; just one dissenter on foreign policy

If you thought the biggest difference in the GOP field was on immigration, you’d be wrong. And if you thought there was an even division in the party between sizable factions on foreign policy, you’d be wrong again.

On immigration reform, as I’ve said for some time now, the differences between GOP candidates on immigration reform is tiny. For example, we learned already that whether it is Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, former Texas governor Rick Perry, former Florida governor Jeb Bush or Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.), the formulation is about the same: Border security first, fix legal immigration and then for those here illegally some kind of earned legalized status. Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) would make the next step a path to citizenship if a list of qualifications was met. (At one time, Bush seemed to agree with a path to citizenship, but his own book contains a spirited argument against citizenship. Even Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Tex.) has not ruled out a path to legalization. So for all the shouting, there’s not much difference there, and no candidate is pitching mass deportation or “self-deportation.”

“What I want to do first is secure the border. If we secure the border and we can say who is coming, who is going, and only people come, come legally, the 11 million that are here, I think there could be a work status for them. And I think what I have tried to say is, what we want is more legal immigration, so we have less illegal immigration. But I am open to immigration reform.” Jeb Bush? Nope, that was Paul — although I think many of the Republicans I mentioned would agree. He added, “I voted against the bill that came forward, though, primarily because it limited the number of legal work visas.” In other words, he wants more legal immigration. (It’s not clear whether Bush wants more immigration or simply to shift from extended-family reunification to economic-based immigration.)

On Iran and Israel, Walker, Perry, Bush, Rubio, Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Tex.) and former Arkansas governor Mike Huckabee have all denounced the Iran deal. They recognize the folly of serial concessions and understand that the president’s “It’s this deal or war” is a phony argument. To be sure, they vary in clarity, forcefulness and experience, but the mainstream conservative foreign policy vision is well represented.

The sole dissenter among the GOP 2016 contenders is Paul. He wants the administration to keep talking to Iran, in contrast with many other Republicans, who have figured out that talking means conceding (especially without new sanctions, which Paul opposes). He sounds like the White House when he declares, “I am in favor of negotiations over war and I think I’ve been one of the reasonable people in our party who has not been beating the drums for war.” He’s keeping “an open mind” on the deal, apparently concluding that letting Iran keep 6,500 centrifuges, Fordow, advanced research, its intercontinental ballistic missile program, etc., might be fine. (Every other GOP candidate has rightly seen the deal as a pathway to Iran getting a bomb.) In fact, Paul says, “I think that there are good things in it.” (Really?) And it’s not just Iran, of course. He still wants to end all foreign aid, a libertarian pipe dream that would be yet further evidence of the U.S. withdrawal from the world. He wants us to know, however, that he has not “targeted” Israel, as he put it on “Face the Nation.” (Small consolation.) Asked about a cutoff of all aid, Laura Bush said succinctly, “I think that’s not really realistic, for one thing. We’re a very wealthy nation. We’re a blessed nation and I think it’s morally improper for us not to save lives if we can.” Precisely.

In sum, if you are looking for contrasts among GOP contenders, immigration probably isn’t the place to find it. On foreign policy, the hawkish party’s presidential field has all hawks, with one candidate’s views being way out of step with the party. That’s an awful lot of agreement despite the large number of candidates. Other issues may provide more contrasts, but I suspect what will really separate the candidates won’t be policy so much as experience, personality, raw political skill and political vision.