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3 Key Points on GOP & Immigration Following Trump Gaffe, International Reaction

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With the fallout over Donald Trump’s racist comments moving into a broader discussion about the role of immigration in the 2016 Republican primary, here are three key points to remember:

  1. GOP Field FINALLY Weighs in on Trump, With Some Supporting and Others Opposing.  But Two-Week Delay Reinforces Party’s Anti-Immigrant Brand Image: After staying silent for two weeks, the Republican presidential field is finally weighing in on Donald Trump’s racist and anti-immigrant comments.  However, the delay in reacting has likely come at a cost to the Republican field and reinforced the Party’s brand image as hostile toward immigrants.  As NBC News “First Read”recaps, “Any day the political conversation in the 2016 presidential race is about Donald Trump isn’t a good day for the Republican Party.  Translation: The GOP has had a rough last few weeks.”  The NBC article also captures that, “[de]spite the new GOP criticism of Trump, former RNC Chair Michael Steele said on ‘Meet’ yesterday that the damage has already been done, especially considering that it took weeks for Trump’s detractors in the GOP field to respond — and especially since the party itself hasn’t condemned Trump. ‘[T]he fact that you’re not coming out on something that everyone in the country reacted to this, and you didn’t, the party didn’t, and those who want to be president didn’t until, what, this week?’  The New York Times’ Carolyn Ryan added, ‘When you’re behind a mattress company that it’s not a good thing for a party.’ Ouch.” See here and here for summaries of the GOP candidates’ recent reactions to Trump’s comments.
  1. GOP Field Surprisingly UNITED on Border Security-First Excuse: After Jeb Bush’s criticism, Trump fired backwith a pointed critique of Jeb Bush’s immigration stance, noting that Bush “doesn’t understand anything about the border or border security.”  Yet the assertion misses the fact that the Republican field is actually united on the “border security first” excuse for inaction on broader reforms.  Even Bush and other supposedly pro-reform candidates are spouting this notion – which for many candidates is a way to avoid a specific answer to the central question of what to do with 11 million undocumented immigrants in America and leaves essential details unanswered (such as, what are the metrics to determine a “secure” border and how can you overcome those in the GOP who plan to use border security as a moveable goalpost to never achieve broader reforms?) 
  1. Groundhog Day? Speaker Boehner Promises Immigration Reform is at “Top of Agenda”: As we noted last week, it’s important to realize that further tarnishing the GOP brand image could have been avoided, had Speaker of the House John Boehner (R-OH) and other Republican leaders had decided to stand up to the nativists in their midst and actually hold a vote on immigration reform last Congress.  After the bipartisan immigration reform bill passed the Senate, Boehner could have brought the bill to the floor of the House and passed it with a majority of Democratic votes and a healthy complement of Republicans.  If GOP leadership had stepped up, they would have had a concrete victory on their hands that would reshape the lives of 11 million undocumented immigrants and their families, and the contours of the 2016 race would be totally different.

    Instead, however, Boehner continued to delay a vote — it always seemed the House was just “a few weeks away” from tackling reform according to the man in charge.  Now, Boehner is back at it again, promising immigration reform to an Irish audience while showing no indication that he is finally prepared to actually confront the anti-immigrant wing of the Party to whom he handed the immigration policymaking reins last Congress.  Per an article in The Irish Times, Speaker Boehner is promising that immigration reform is again at the “top of the agenda.”  As the article recaps, “Although he has consistently refused to put immigration reform to a House vote, he said certain colleagues thought the matter would be resolved by sticking their heads in the sand. ‘It doesn’t work that way,’” the article attributes Boehner as saying.

Said Lynn Tramonte, Deputy Director of America’s Voice: “If it really ‘doesn’t work that way,’ Speaker Boehner should step up and fill the Republican leadership vacuum on immigration reform – something he has been unable and unwilling to do thus far.  Until then, the Republican Party will continue to be defined by its most extreme members and the only immigration votes Boehner has been willing to schedule: votes that undercut American families.  Until Republicans change not only their rhetoric as well as their policies, they will continue to alienate the Latino voters they need to win elections.”