One of the most positive results of Libertarian Gary Johnson’s presidential run will be forceful attacks from the right on Donald Trump’s counterproductive and dishonest arguments against immigration reform.
As we saw in the GOP primary, most Republicans candidates tried to catch up to or outdo Trump in the race for who could be most unrealistic and extreme on the immigration issue. Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Tex.) stopped supporting legal immigration and decided he, too, favored deportation of 11 million people. Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) retreated from comprehensive immigration and refused to take on Trump’s untruths about immigrants, both legal and illegal. New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie also started hawking deportation, trying to curry the favor of the worst anti-immigrant radio talk show hosts.
Jeb Bush was one of the few to speak up on behalf of legal immigration and to strenuously argue that we were not going to deport millions of people, tearing apart families in the process. That one voice was drowned out, in no small part because many in the conservative movement have drunk the anti-immigration Kool-Aid. Remember, before joining up with Trump, Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.) was a rock star on the right, heralded for his obsession with stopping immigration (even legal immigration).
The job of vigorously defending from a conservative perspective legal immigration, warning against the insanity of mass deportation and explaining the impossibility of building a wall along the entire border was left to a few lonely voices in the conservative media (including Right Turn and several of my colleagues) and a small cadre of elected officials, none of whom chose to run for president.
Now along comes Johnson, who delightfully and emphatically calls out Trump and the anti-immigrant crowd for, bluntly put, lying. He has deemed Trump’s anti-immigrant schemes “ridiculous,” explained statistically that immigrants commit fewer crimes than native-born Americans and called Trump’s assertion that Mexico sends us their “worst” people flatly untrue.
As a former border-state governor, Johnson can speak credibly about the need to keep out the few troublemakers, about how the vast majority of immigrants desire “just to find jobs” and about the toxicity of Republicans’ anti-immigrant language with Hispanic Americans. In his news conference after his nomination, Johnson called Trump’s proposal to round up 11 million people “incendiary with 50 percent of the population of New Mexico.” He did not hesitate to call Trump’s accusation that these people are “rapists and criminals” for what it is. “It is just racist,” he declared.
If Johnson can remind conservatives that immigration is consistent with their free-market principles, promotes growth and does not adversely affect the wages of the vast majority of workers (according to some but not all economic models, those without high school diplomas see a slight dip). He can make the case that more immigrants are now returning to Mexico than coming here. And he can explain that the cost and violation of civil liberties that a mass roundup and deportation would entail would be unacceptable to virtually all Americans. In other words, Johnson can make the argument that each and every one of the GOP presidential candidates should have made during the election.
Johnson can be the one to make good on the Republican National Committee’s 2012 autopsy, which included this admonition:
If Hispanic Americans perceive that a GOP nominee or candidate does not want them in the United States (i.e. self-deportation), they will not pay attention to our next sentence. It does not matter what we say about education, jobs or the economy; if Hispanics think we do not want them here, they will close their ears to our policies. In the last election, Governor Romney received just 27 percent of the Hispanic vote. Other minority communities, including Asian and Pacific Islander Americans, also view the Party as unwelcoming. President Bush got 44 percent of the Asian vote in 2004; our presidential nominee received only 26 percent in 2012.
As one conservative, Tea-Party leader, Dick Armey, told us, “You can’t call someone ugly and expect them to go to the prom with you. We’ve chased the Hispanic voter out of his natural home.” We are not a policy committee, but among the steps Republicans take in the Hispanic community and beyond, we must embrace and champion comprehensive immigration reform. If we do not, our Party’s appeal will continue to shrink to its core constituencies only. We also believe that comprehensive immigration reform is consistent with Republican economic policies that promote job growth and opportunity for all.
RNC chairman Reince Priebus was so proud of that report. At least there is now a presidential candidate on the right to deliver the message. Unfortunately, it is not the nominee of Priebus’s party.