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By Failing to Challenge Trump, GOP Leaders Complicit in Normalizing His Radical Nativism

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With last night’s win in the Nevada Republican caucuses, Donald Trump moved one step closer to securing the Republican presidential nomination. Trump has already normalized noxious immigration ideas such as mass deportation and the denial of birthright citizenship, and has pulled the GOP presidential field towards his radical views in the process. Given that Republican leaders have largely refused to challenge Trump or his ideas, they are complicit in the mainstreaming of his hateful stances.

Here are some insightful assessments from some of the keenest observers of immigration politics:

Greg Sargent, Washington Post, “Donald Trump is a black hole, sucking in all his GOP rivals”:

“All this confirms once again that Trump firmly established the terms of the intra-GOP immigration argument when he came out for mass deportations over six months ago. The leading GOP candidates — with the exception of Jeb Bush, who mounted a sustained moral challenge to Trumpism and as a result has now disappeared without a trace — have essentially surrendered to the debate parameters that Trump laid down. And they continue to refrain from challenging them in any meaningful sense.” 

Dara Lind, Vox, “Donald Trump has pushed mass deportation into the GOP mainstream”:

“To listen to Donald Trump tell it, no one was talking about immigration in the Republican Party until he announced his candidacy. That’s obviously wrong. But Trump really has changed the conversation around immigration — the Washington Post’s Greg Sargent called him a “black hole” — in a way it won’t necessarily be easy to turn back.

A post I wrote in January 2015 basically described the state of Republican Party debate on the issue:

Collectively, Republican presidential candidates have an incentive to avoid the issue. They can’t go an entire year without mentioning immigration at all, but they can stick to tough-sounding rhetoric, and controversies […]— and avoid making any concrete statements about policy.

That’s not true anymore. Now a leading conservative journalist and pundit [Bill O’Reilly] is making damned sure that a leading Republican politician has an explicit position on mass deportation.

Political scientists talk about the Overton window: the range of positions on an issue that are considered acceptable or possible. Mass deportation wasn’t in the Overton window a year ago. It is now.

Brian Beutler, New Republic, “After Nevada, Will the GOP’s Trump Denial Finally Break?”:

“Assuming the trend continues after Trump’s overwhelming victory in Nevada’s Republican caucuses, it’s both redundant and stunning to note that what’s happening in American politics right now is completely novel: An unwelcome insurgent is commandeering one of the country’s two major political parties, and its leaders are simply pretending not to notice.

This is a uniquely forbidding turn of events for journalists, who must somehow bring life to a dark turn of history where the only people equipped to stand athwart it have instead stood aside yelling, “Nothing to see here!”

Trump has now won three consecutive nominating contests, after barely losing the first under uniquely challenging circumstances. He is poised to crush his competitors a week from now on Super Tuesday. And yet there appears to be no plan in place, and perhaps no feasible plan even in theory, to avert this catastrophe.

A small number of conservative opinion-makers have pleaded with the party to intervene, but their strategies are so hyper-rational as to cross the line into fantasy: Perhaps Rubio and Cruz—the latter of whom is a hated figure within the GOP—can forge a unity ticket of undisguised political nemeses, both of whom are committed to top billing.


The truth is, nobody knows how Republicans can best confront the Trump phenomenon better than Republicans themselves, and they appear to have no clue. Tonight’s returns, more even than Saturday’s in South Carolina, are a “your move” moment for a GOP establishment that may have no good moves left.” 

According to Frank Sharry, Executive Director of America’s Voice, “Trump’s rhetoric and radicalism is something new and something dangerous in America. If the GOP establishment can’t organize themselves to save their party from it, it’s up to the rest of us to stop Trump and Trumpism. The very idea that we are going to forcibly remove 11 million settled immigrants and millions of their U.S. citizen children in 18-24 months is profoundly ugly and un-American. For those of us who believe in an America that is permanently evolving in order to become a more perfect union, it is up to us to defend who we are against a bigoted bully who is one step closer to the Presidency.”