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“The Trump Effect”: Driving & Defining the GOP Debate, While Rest of GOP Field Cowers

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It is now clear that the fallout over Donald Trump’s racist anti-immigrant remarks will not go away quietly.  Trump’s comments, and his ongoing defense of them, continue to drive the political news cycle and reinforce the Republican Party’s brand image on immigration issues in the process, while his fellow candidates struggle in response.  This is what we call “The Trump Effect.”

The GOP presidential field is largely kowtowing to the anti-immigrant wing of the Party, with even supposed “pro-reform” candidates such as Jeb Bush increasingly emphasizing harder-edged policies.  Here are just a few of the reminders of how Trump has been dominating recent political coverage and driving the Republican debate:

  • Bloomberg’s Mark Halperin assessesthat fellow Republican candidates have blundered politically by failing to go on offense against Trump.  In analysis titled, “Taking On Donald Trump May Be a Key Step in Getting to the Oval Office,” Halperin writes: “Now that he’s a candidate, Trump is much harder to placate, and many believe, with his immigration position and the general circus environment he carries with him, that he’s causing the party real damage… The risks are huge for anyone who makes a frontal assault, a full repudiation that goes beyond just challenging Trump on his immigration comments, a truly epic mud war. But a candidate who undertook it might be seen as both a party savior and pillar of strength, definitely prepared to be an Oval Office occupant… Will any of them seize the moment?”
  • James Hohmann writesin the Washington Post, “According to Zignal Labs, the Washington Post’s analytics partner, 48 percent of all the conversation about 2016 – across social  and regular media – was about The Donald last week…Trump mentions were more than twice as likely to be negative than positive, according to a Zignal algorithm that tracks sentiment.  The dynamic was even more pronounced in Spanish-language media as Univision and Telemundo are intensively covering all things Trump.”
  • Maeve Reston of CNN notes, “his fellow GOP contenders found themselves seared by the damage that he was inflicting on the Republican brand…many Republican strategists have watched with alarm as Trump has sucked up all the oxygen in the presidential race on the issue.”
  • Former GOP Congressman Tom Davis told the New York Times, “Trump is just dominating the race right now, he’s sucking the air out of this thing…Our candidates are all being forced to react to his comments.”

But as several other observers highlight, one of the central reasons the GOP field has been slow to attack Trump is because of their own lurch to the right (which Trump embodies to a bombastic extreme).

  • Greg Sargentof the Washington Post writes that Trump’s comments and the fallout offer a “reminder of a lingering, deeper fundamental difference between the parties that could prove crucial to deciding the Latino vote and the 2016 outcome.  Broadly speaking, many Democratic officials think undocumented immigrants have something positive to contribute to American life, and many Republican officials don’t.”
  • Dana Milbank writesin the Washington Post, the idea of Republicans distancing themselves from Trump is complicated by the realities of the Republican primary electorate and the party’s general lurch to the right on immigration and other issues.  Writes Milbank: “there is one entity that can’t dump Trump, no matter how hard it tries: the GOP.  The Republican Party can’t dump Trump because Trump is the Republican Party…He recognized that, in the fragmented Republican field, his name recognition would take him far if he merely voiced, in his bombastic style, the positions GOP voters craved.”

Even Jeb Bush, who some tout as the anti-Trump on immigration and Latino outreach issues, has clarified some important immigration policy specifics in the past few days by emphasizing harder-line immigration stances on citizenship and executive action programs.  In New Hampshire, Bush yesterday made more explicit his belief that current undocumented immigrants should be eventually provided the opportunity for earned legal status, but not the opportunity to earn citizenship, noting that “People came here illegally – there should be a consequence” (and offering a contrast with Dreamers, who Bush thinks should be treated differently and given a chance to become citizens).  See the Washington Post and the Miami Herald for more context on Bush’s remarks.

Additionally, at a town hall event last night, Bush endorsed ending both the DACA program for Dreamers and the DAPA executive action immigration program during his first three months as president.  While Bush has previously expressed opposition to executive action programs, he had not specified if he would keep them in place should Congress fail to enact a permanent legislative solution.  And Bush and most in the GOP field continue to unite around the “border security first” excuse for inaction on broader immigration reform.