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ICYMI: Must Read Analyses on Roots & Consequences of GOP Lurch to Right on Immigration

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Brian Beutler in The New Republic and Peter Beinart in The Atlantic Assess Republicans and Immigration

Ahead of tonight’s Iowa caucuses, recent analyses from Brian Beutler of The New Republic and Peter Beinart of The Atlantic assess the roots and consequences of the Republican lurch to the right on immigration.  We excerpt the pieces below: 

Brian Beutler in The New Republic: “This Year’s Republican Primary Is a Gamble Seven Years in the Making

“How did we get here? How did the party that has recently been led by country-club candidates like Mitt Romney and Bob Dole come to be overtaken by a performance artist whom these former nominees detest? There are many answers to this question, some of which go back decades.

This year’s GOP primary has frequently been framed as a referendum on the party’s response to Romney’s defeat in 2012. After President Obama’s reelection, Republican Party leaders conducted an election postmortem and determined that the GOP’s fatal liability was its hostility to a variety of Democratic-leaning demographics, immigrant communities in particular. That report was the jumping-off point for a long and ultimately failed legislative effort to reform the country’s immigration system, provide a citizenship guarantee to America’s vast undocumented population—and allow the GOP to demonstrate a newfound respect for non-white voters.

… Congress’s split verdict on immigration reform left the Republican Party’s post-2012 identity unresolved, and the ensuing presidential primary thus became a referendum on whether the GOP would hew to the RNC’s faltering recommendations, or fish instead in the deeper and unknown waters of disaffected white voters.

In this schema, Trump represents one pole of that intra-party debate, the fractured Republican establishment represents the other, and the two are waging battle over nothing less than the future of the party. Will the GOP continue to be the party that reliably fuses business interests with hat tips to social conservatism? Or will it turn Trumpism into a new governing doctrine that is less solicitous of donors and more solicitous of xenophobes, white nationalists, protectionists, and nativists?

Distilled to their essence, those are the stakes of this primary for the Republican Party. The fact that primary elections begin in Iowa only complicates matters for the Republican establishment. The Iowa GOP is dominated by anti-immigrant sentiment. One of its most influential figures is Representative Steve King, a Ted Cruz supporter, who’s helped set the party’s xenophobic tone by describing immigrants in subhuman terms. It should thus come as no surprise that Cruz and Trump lead the Iowa polls, while Marco Rubio, the only establishment candidate who appears even minimally poised to challenge either, is stuck in a distant third …”

Peter Beinart in The Atlantic: “The Republican Conflation of Immigration and ISIS 

“You can learn a lot from the words politicians use, and even more from the words they don’t. At last night’s Republican debate, candidates and moderators mentioned ‘immigration’ 27 times. No surprise there. It may the single biggest issue in the GOP race. The word ‘Mexican,’ however, wasn’t mentioned once, even though in recent years Mexicans have constituted America’s largest immigrant group. Neither did anyone mention ‘Chinese, Indian, Filipino, Vietnamese or El Salvadoran,’ the other most common nationalities of recent immigrants. ‘Latino’ was never mentioned. Neither was ‘Asian.’ ‘Hispanic’ was mentioned once.

‘Muslim,’ by contrast, was mentioned 15 times, often preceded by the adjective ‘radical.’ The word ‘Islam’ was cited nine times. ‘ISIS’ came up a whopping 45 times.

This is partly because the candidates were asked about events in the Middle East. But it’s also because they repeatedly turned questions about immigration into questions about Muslims and ISIS.

…As public policy, this makes little sense. Obviously, the United States should take care not to admit jihadist terrorists. But since would-be terrorists constitute a miniscule percentage of newcomers to the United States, drastically reducing legal immigration—or not granting the undocumented citizenship—in order to prevent ISIS members from entering America is like using a sledgehammer to squash a fly. It’s the equivalent of declaring that because terrorists could put a bomb in a cargo bin, the U.S. will slash its import of foreign goods. It’s one thing to depict immigrants as people who depress wages and crowd schools. It’s another to depict them as potential killers.

But politically, it serves a purpose. By putting ISIS at the center of their immigration rhetoric, Republican candidates make immigration seem more threatening and less ambiguous. It’s one thing to depict immigrants as people who depress wages and crowd schools. It’s another to depict them as potential killers. That utterly dehumanizes them.

The answers by GOP candidates also play into a larger conservative effort to depict Mexican immigrants as, if not ISIS members, then at least dangerous. Immigrants actually commit crime at a lower rate than native-born Americans

… In 2014, Jeb Bush got into trouble for calling immigration an ‘act of love.’ No Republican contender would say that now. But today’s candidates aren’t even content to depict it as an act of self-interest. By constantly invoking ISIS and terrorism, they associate immigration with violence and hatred. And in so doing, they make it easier for Americans to respond with hatred of their own.”