Polls indicate that support for Donald Trump is plateauing while key challengers like Ben Carson, Carly Fiorina and Marco Rubio are quickly gaining ground.
If this trend continues and Trump flames out, the Republican establishment shouldn’t simply dismiss his candidacy as a fad. There are lessons to be learned from Trump’s unexpected popularity. The most important one is that there is broad support for some components of his immigration platform, even among Hispanics.
Yes, you read that right.
Polls show that many Hispanics agree with Trump that illegal immigration is a huge problem. The eventual GOP nominee should, of course, reject the divisive, inflammatory language Trump and his supporters have often used to make the case for reform. But there are smart policy ideas buried under all that rhetoric. They ought to be incorporated into the official party platform.
A recent poll by SurveyUSA shows that Trump commands the support of 31 percent of Hispanics. That’s not only a higher share than Mitt Romney received in 2012 — it’s more than Republican George H.W. Bush received in 1988 when he won the general election.
Most Hispanics aren’t single-issue voters when it comes to immigration. A recent Gallup poll found that among registered Latino voters, 67 percent are at least willing to support a candidate who doesn’t share their views on immigration. And 18 percent don’t consider the issue important at all.
What’s more, many Hispanic citizens have little sympathy for immigrants who haven’t played by the rules. Especially among Latino voters born in the United States, resentment of immigrants who have entered the country illegally can run deep. Forty-two percent of American-born Hispanics disapprove of President Obama’s executive actions to prevent the deportation of illegal immigrants.
So while Trump has certainly been insensitive and incendiary, his message has nonetheless resonated with a significant share of Hispanic voters. Most immigrants to this country played by the rules. It’s no surprise that they disapprove of people who didn’t.
With Trump on the wane, the GOP should pluck the good from his immigration stand and propose specific reforms to the existing system.
Border enforcement should be a primary goal. Trump’s signature proposal, after all, is a wall along the Mexican border with “a big, beautiful door … so that people can come into this country legally.”
The GOP should fill in the details. For example, officials need a strategy for finding and holding accountable immigrants who remain in the country longer than the law allows. Systems such as biometric exit points, which would track visitors through their fingerprints or photographs, could help ensure that the person leaving the country is the same one who entered.
A smart immigration platform would also include a more economically viable plan to deal with America’s current population of undocumented workers. Trump has said that after deporting such workers — who make up 5 percent of the U.S. labor force — he would be willing to invite “the good ones back to get documentation and become legal.”
It would be cheaper and more effective to skip the mass deportations and simply grant temporary work permits to certain illegal immigrants who pass a rigorous qualification process. These individuals would need to learn English and pay hefty monetary penalties for violating the law. And to weed out genuinely dangerous criminals, a thorough background check would be essential.
There’s an appetite for humane immigration policies that still afford people from all over the world the opportunity to come and thrive in the United States. During the most recent TV debate, the National Immigration Forum Action Fund ran an arresting ad contrasting the positive, welcoming “city upon a hill” immigration vision outlined by Ronald Reagan and the divisive, isolationist language deployed by Trump and other GOP contenders.
Reforming America’s broken immigration system does not require abandoning that optimism. The GOP should reject Trump’s hateful rhetoric while prioritizing serious immigration reform. Such a strategy would drive voters of all stripes, including Hispanics, to the polls come November 2016.
Yuri Vanetik is a Lincoln Fellow at the Claremont Institute and serves on the national board of Gen Next and the Gen Next Foundation. Thomas Tucker is a co-founder of The New Majority.
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