Candidate Donald Trump clearly is playing to his base. And one look at the timidity with which so many of his rivals for the Republican presidential nomination push back at his bombast makes it clear that they, too, are playing to Donald Trump’s base.
However, many of Mr. Trump’s comments, extreme, sexist and downright hostile to Mexican immigrants, reveal less about the billionaire and more about what the others in the Republican race seem to fear — offending Mr. Trump’s supporters, the people who have propelled him to the top of poll after poll, leaving just about everyone else to duke it out in his dust.
It has taken quite a bit to get a rise out of the GOP candidates. Their pushback against Mr. Trump’s “Illegal Mexican immigrants are rapists” comment came in drawn-out dribs and drabs. And none said a word during the prime-time debate in Cleveland a few weeks ago when Mr. Trump was asked to account for some vile words about women. He didn’t repudiate anything he has said. Fine, he owned it. But no one else stepped up with any words to woo women. Silence.
Candidates hoping Mr. Trump will eventually just go away need to get real. Those poll numbers are impressive. And though they ultimately might not turn into enough votes to propel him to the nomination, Mr. Trump could very well stay in the game with a third-party insurgency.
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So, he’s here to stay for the foreseeable future.
This week, candidates Jeb Bush and Marco Rubio found their voices to counter Mr. Trump’s latest iteration of his approach to immigration — to deport all illegal aliens, kids and all, even the children born in the United States. In effect, an end to birthright citizenship.
“There is not a realistic way of rounding up and deporting 12 or 13 million people,” Mr. Rubio told reporters at the Iowa State Fair on Tuesday. “And our nation wouldn’t want to do that anyways.”
And Mr. Bush told the Washington Post: “A plan needs to be grounded in reality.”
Right. So let’s have a debate about immigration — legal and illegal — informed by the facts.
When it comes to criminal behavior — Mr. Trump’s “rapists” — a 2007 study by the Immigration Policy Center found that Hispanic immigrants, especially young men, are imprisoned at lower rates than are native-born Americans. This was found to be the case for immigrants from Mexico, Guatemala and El Salvador, whose citizens make up the bulk of undocumented immigrants in this country.
The number of undocumented immigrants in the United States peaked in 2007 at 12.2 million, according to the Pew Research Center. In 2014, an estimated 11.3 million were living here, down from 11.5 million in 2011. Yes, illegals are still making their way to this country, but a greater number are leaving.
Birthright citizenship is enshrined in the U.S. Constitution. Stripping it from the document is going to be an impossible — and divisive — slog that will in no way heal this already-fractured nation.
And consider: A few kerfuffles aside, Mexico and the United States have been good neighbors. What gain is there to continue to alienate its leaders and citizens upon whom we rely for help fighting drug cartels and, yes, providing laborers who do so many of the backbreaking jobs in this country?
Real immigration reform will come from robust, respectful debate, not fear and wedge issues.