Though the Donald may have skipped last night’s Republican Presidential forum in New Hampshire (one report says he was throwing a fit over a less-than-flattering newspaper editorial), he was certainly there in spirit as his fellow candidates lashed out repeatedly over immigration.
Mr. Trump’s influence could be discerned. The moderator, Jack Heath, a New Hampshire radio host, repeatedly pressed the candidates on immigration, the issue that Mr. Trump has ridden to the top of the polls. And it seemed clear they felt compelled to take as hard a line as they could to leave as little room as possible between their positions and his.
Rick Perry, the former governor of Texas, said he had looked President Obama in the eye and warned, “Mr. President, if you don’t secure the border, Texas will.” He listed the security measures he favored for stemming the flow of illegal immigrants, from air patrols of the border 24 hours a day, seven days a week, to a stronger fence in certain places.
Even some of the supposed immigrant-friendly candidates from the Republican field came off as quite a bit…well…not-so-immigrant-friendly.
Marco Rubio — famously declared “The GOP’s Savior” by TIME, only to unceremoniously dump the comprehensive immigration reform package he authored — pushed a “border security first” soundbite that ignores the reality on the ground (which is that the border is more secure now than it has been in decades):
Rubio, once a lead salesman for a comprehensive immigration overhaul, said Americans want the border fence completed and more border security agents before there’s any discussion of what to do with those 11 million immigrants in the country illegally.
Even Jeb Bush, who once boasted he lived “the immigrant experience” because of his immigrant spouse, seemed to join Rick Santorum and Scott Walker in calling for a reduction in legal immigration (and, earlier that morning, Jeb released a six-point “immigration plan” that focused solely on enforcement and said zip about citizenship for the 11 million):
Bush said fixing the nation’s immigration system is a key part of his plan to help the economy grow 4 percent each year. He also called for reducing legal immigration, particularly the number of people allowed to enter the country to rejoin family.
And, as many on Twitter were quick to point out, all 14 candidates — including Lindsey Graham, who co-authored the Senate’s 2013 comprehensive immigration reform bill along with Rubio — failed to utter the word “citizenship” out loud even once.
Call it the “Trump Effect.”
But in reality, candidates are foolish to tie themselves to Trump’s anti-immigrant ship this primary season. A new NBC News/ Wall Street Journal/ Telemundo poll released this week shows that not only do a full 75% of Latinos hold a negative view of Trump, but “69% of Latinos surveyed said that they believe Trump is hurting the Republican Party’s image.”
And, as was proven in 2012 and will again repeat in 2016 and beyond, the road to the White House goes straight through the Latino, Asian, and immigrant voter communities.
We’ll be offering live commentary on Thursday’s Republican debate in Ohio, too. In the meantime, check out our Storify of some of last night’s best tweets about the Republican forum in New Hampshire below.