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Opinion Texas and Arizona can teach the GOP a lesson

The Texas Tribune reports:

Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump held a three-percentage-point lead over Democrat Hillary Clinton on the eve of early voting in Texas, according to the latest University of Texas/Texas Tribune Poll. … While 93 percent of Democrats support Clinton, 83 percent of Republicans and 46 percent of independents support Trump. Only 19 percent of independents said they support Clinton. And there is a big divide on racial and ethnic lines: Trump led Clinton 57 percent to 28 percent among white voters, but Clinton led 95 percent to 4 percent among black voters and 56 percent to 33 percent among Hispanic voters.

This is remarkable not only because Texas is a deep-red state but also because, if there is any place that should be anxious about illegal immigration, it is Texas. Come to think of it, Arizona is another border state. And yet Trump is struggling in both places. Trump’s build-the-wall and mass deportation proposals don’t sell in Arizona and Texas.

We’ve long remarked that the anti-immigrant nuttery is strong in places with virtually no illegal immigration. The Post reported in 2014 on a Pew research report:

California, the most populous state, is home to the most [illegal immigrants]: nearly 2.5 million undocumented immigrants. Texas is home to nearly 1.7 million. Six states — Maine, Montana, North Dakota, South Dakota, Vermont and West Virginia — have fewer than 5,000 undocumented immigrants. Nationally, there are 11.2 million such immigrants in all.

When you look at states in which less than 1 percent of the population is illegal immigrants, you’ll find hotbeds of furor (West Virginia, Kentucky, Mississippi). The coal country folks think illegal immigrants are putting them out of work? In Ohio, illegal immigrants make up less than 1 percent of the population; in Pennsylvania, the number is 1.3 percent.

Moreover, we know that illegal immigration is on the decline, despite Trump’s pearl-clutching. The 2014 Pew study found: “Mexicans are a majority of unauthorized immigrants (52% in 2012), but both their numbers and share have declined in recent years, according to the Pew Research estimates. Although the U.S. population of unauthorized immigrants was stable from 2009 to 2012, the number of Mexicans in this population fell by about half a million people during those years. According to the new Pew Research Center estimates, there were 5.9 million Mexican unauthorized immigrants in 2012, compared with 6.4 million in 2009. The decline likely resulted from both an increase in departures to Mexico and a decrease in arrivals from Mexico.”

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This tells us a few things:

  • Trump’s anti-immigrant extremism plays poorly in places with direct experiences with large numbers of illegal immigrants.
  • The combination of Hispanic voters and white voters disdainful of Trump’s bigotry and misogyny undermines the notion that this is a winning issue for the GOP.
  • The anti-immigration fervor is stoked in places and among people who are not affected by illegal immigration and have little, if any, experience with crime (which Trump would have us believe is epidemic) committed by illegal immigrants.
  • Illegal immigration from Mexico has been declining. Trump still focuses on such immigrants, even as Asians become the largest share of the illegal-immigrant population.

To be clear, the anti-immigration fetish is not based on economic or safety concerns, at least not real ones. Trump is whipping up bigotry, plain and simple, using made-up facts and hysterical rhetoric. Texas and Arizona can make a powerful statement on Election Day, rejecting xenophobia and undermining the “myth of the white voter.” In doing so, these red states may accelerate a much-needed fumigation of the GOP — and demonstrate an appetite for inclusive candidates from the center-right.