When Donald Trump held a recent rally in Phoenix to denounce Mexican immigrants, Sen. John McCain, Arizona’s Republican elder, said Mr. Trump’s “performance” hurts his own reelection drive. “He fired up the crazies,” Sen. McCain lamented in an interview with The New Yorker.
Well, yes. The anti-immigrant strain in American politics is as old as the republic itself, and Mr. Trump’s fiery rhetoric has brought its adherents out of the woodwork.
But Mr. McCain’s complaint, like that of virtually every other prominent Republican watching nervously as Mr. Trump soars to the top of the polls, is misplaced. Their own candidacies are being hurt because they cannot compete with the acid comments about immigrants, and the party itself — desperate to attract Latino votes in 2016 election — is seeing its brand tarnished and its hopes of winning dimmed. But let’s stop and consider who is really being victimized here.
It’s not poor Sen. McCain, who is free to denounce Mr. Trump’s unfair characterizations anytime he wants to. Nor is it the Republican Party and the candidates vying for the presidential nomination, who can easily point out that Mr. Trump’s allegations are simply wrong. No, they and the party are only collateral damage. The real victims are the millions of men and women wrongfully stigmatized as criminals and rapists because they crossed the border in search of an honest living without lawful entry.
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Yes, they were wrong, but that does not justify the wholesale loathing aimed at them by xenophobes who see them as a bunch of deadbeats infecting American society.
Instead of complaining, Republicans courting the Latino vote should be busy setting the record straight, pointing out that immigrants, by and large, are law-abiding people who live in fear of committing the slightest traffic infraction that might attract the police.
Indeed the real-estate tycoon has done the party a favor by forcing it to face the consequences of years of its “soft discrimination” aimed at immigrants. The result of this sentiment, often lurking just beneath the surface of party rhetoric, has been a refusal to grapple with immigration reform and, thus, letting the issue fester.
As PolitiFact Florida pointed out, much of what Mr. Trump claims has no basis in fact. Mexican immigrants come here to work or join family, not to commit crime. Their government may not have created an economy that can accommodate the labor force, but it has never had a policy of pushing immigrants, especially criminals, northward.
And, by the way, migration from Mexico has been declining in the last decade. Since 2006, more Mexicans left the United States than the number of new arrivals. “For the first time on record, more non-Mexicans than Mexicans were apprehended at U.S. borders in 2014 by the Border Patrol,” according to a report by the Pew Research Center.
Where are the Republican candidates who can fight the venom of anti-immigrant rhetoric with the antidote of facts? Certainly they are not the ones who claim to be “offended” by Mr. Trump’s remarks, but desperately want to change the subject.
It’s safe to say the issue isn’t going away, and they can’t duck it forever. And here’s something else that’s safe to say: If leaders of the party don’t confront the issue head-on, the party will be lucky in 2016 to get half of the 27 percent share of the Latino vote that Republicans got in 2012.