Three years ago, high-level Republicans declared that after losing the popular vote in five of the past six elections, the party needed to appeal more to Hispanics to win the presidency. Immigration was a threshold issue.
Hispanic are the fastest-growing slice of the electorate. The 2012 Republican nominee, Mitt Romney, took an anti-immigration stance and the only got 27 percent of that vote. It hadn’t always been so. George W. Bush won almost 40 percent of the Hispanic vote in 2004, and 20 years earlier, by some estimates, Ronald Reagan did even better.
Today, however, this notion has been turned upside down. Donald Trump has soared to the top of the Republican presidential field with an immigration-bashing pitch. The billionaire businessman has set the agenda for other aspirants: Ted Cruz has hardened his anti-reform position, Marco Rubio and Chris Christie have reversed course to adopt tougher-on-immigration stances and John Kasich has fudged.
More Republican politicians, along with some conservative commentators and strategists, now say Trump’s hard line is good politics because it taps into deep cultural, economic and security fears.
There is plenty of demagoguery and racism to this appeal. Yet it is also being made by more thoughtful conservatives such as Reihan Salam, a top editor at the anti-Trump National Review. My Bloomberg View colleague, Ramesh Ponnuru, wrote recently that immigration, much like abortion decades ago, is becoming a defining test for Republicans with national aspirations.
Some of these advocates want to limit immigration to high-skilled workers, who are in demand, and keep out the less skilled, who they believe become a drag on society. (Most Democrats and Hispanics say that approach is a nonstarter.)
By Albert R. Hunt for Bloomberg View
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