More than a few Republican graybeards are panicking about how the rise of Donald Trump is pulling at the seams of the GOP’s big tent. However, the Republican establishment itself has played a big role in creating this particular Frankenstein’s monster.
In September 2014, I found myself in Lexington, Nebraska, population 10,230. I was at a campaign stop with the soon-to-be-elected junior senator from Nebraska, and it seemed as if voters in this small town wanted to talk about one issue in particular. Just a few weeks earlier—right before school was to start—the federal government had showed up in Lexington and dropped off 11 unaccompanied Central American children who had been scooped up in the recent border crisis. The handoff was done with little warning and without any apparent concern about how the folks in a small town with a small budget and limited resources were going to take care of these kids. The Obama White House’s lawless immigration policy had created an avoidable humanitarian crisis, and heartland voters were being given no choice but to deal with the consequences.
Despite the very real pain and costs associated with decades of federal neglect of immigration policy, both parties have treated voters’ legitimate concerns about the issue with disdain.
It’s easy to see why voters have become radicalized on the issue. Republicans have long mouthed platitudes about enforcing immigration laws, with little to no follow-through. Democrats, eager to play identity politics, argue that border controls are essentially racist. And it doesn’t help that the left-leaning media, which have been masterfully manipulated by Trump, view all worries about immigration as the last gasp of a nativist underclass in a country where the demographics are rapidly and inexorably changing.
Unfortunately for Republicans, voter demographics are changing. One such change is that white American voters are increasingly voting Republican, and this is creating some pressure to turn the party into something that is genuinely nativist rather than a party unfairly perceived as such. After all, as National Review’s Ramesh Ponnuru recently pointed out, given the vagaries of Electoral College math, Mitt Romney could have done 40 points better among Hispanic voters and still not garnered the votes to win in 2012. By contrast, had Romney done just 4 points better among white voters, the White House would have been his.
For Republican campaign types, the easiest path to victory might appear to be finding ways to stir up white voters. But if white identity politics looks like how the GOP might win the White House in the short term, it’s bad news for America in the long term. The party of Lincoln has been the one that understands our nation’s failures and triumphs are linked to our ability to adhere to the principles of individual liberty above race and class divisions.
In the meantime, for Republicans alarmed by the prospect of Trump claiming the Republican mantle in Cleveland next summer, one way to take the wind out of his sails would be to try to unite the party behind a credible immigration policy. And since the GOP controls Congress, they could start on the issue tomorrow. It need not be a radical agenda; it should simply be one that takes the issue of enforcement seriously and is backed by a credible commitment that it will be enacted. After congressional Republicans go on the offensive and Obama vetoes a few bills in areas of bipartisan agreement such as tougher border security, perhaps GOP primary voters won’t be as inclined to turn to party outsiders to see their concerns addressed.
Similarly, the other Republican presidential hopefuls can seize the opportunity Trump has created to talk about immigration and do so frankly. Where Trump’s rhetoric on the issue is little more than pandering, articulating tough but realistic policies would make Trump look small by comparison. Unfortunately, the supposedly serious GOP candidates haven’t offered voters enough substance to distinguish themselves from Trump.
Based on recent election results, Republicans shouldn’t fear addressing immigration head-on. A large percentage of Hispanic voters are more receptive to the GOP’s message of economic opportunity and traditional values than they are in favor of open borders. In 2014, Georgia senator David Perdue and governor Nathan Deal each won more than 40 percent of the Hispanic vote while holding tough positions on illegal immigration. Arizona governor Doug Ducey and Texas governor Greg Abbott did more than 5 points better than their GOP predecessors with Hispanics. It helps that Republicans have also elected impressive Hispanic pols, such as Marco Rubio, Ted Cruz, Susana Martinez, and Brian Sandoval.
Until the GOP establishment convinces voters it’s serious about immigration, Trump will dominate the debate. That’s because Trump is saying something voters want to hear on an issue the Republican party has been needlessly afraid to address.
It’s been a rough month for Scott Walker. From February through July, the Wisconsin governor topped virtually every poll of likely GOP voters in the first-in-the-nation Iowa caucuses. But after a lackluster performance in the opening Republican presidential debate on August 6, Walker dropped nearly 10 points in an average of Iowa polls, sliding to third place behind Donald Trump and Ben Carson, with Carly Fiorina, Ted Cruz, and Marco Rubio close behind.
The late great comedian Milton Berle, when introduced to an enthusiastically applauding audience, would hold up his left hand in a modest gesture as if to say thank you but that’s enough, and with his right hand held at waist level encouraged the audience to even wilder applause. President Obama has just accomplished a similar feat. With one hand he has delivered his Clean Power Plan, designed to reduce the use of our own resources of fossil fuels.
The Scrapbook can’t pretend to have had a misspent youth. But we did occasionally wallow in the spectacle of pro wrestling. And it’s pretty obviously the case, as a handful of astute observers have pointed out, that Donald Trump is a close student of, and has been deeply influenced by, the dramatic conventions of pro wrestling.
The idea of writing a book about a presidential campaign that never happened had not occurred to Don Cogman. He had spent two years trying to get Mitch Daniels, then governor of Indiana, to run for president in 2012. His effort—and it was no small effort—had failed. Daniels had moved on, right out of politics. He’d become president of Purdue University.
Needless to say, The Scrapbook is strictly neutral on the results of last week’s Republican presidential debate on Fox News. So neutral, in fact, that we won’t even mention any of the highlights—or lowlights, if you prefer—and certainly won’t weigh in on who swept the floor with whom, who embarrassed him/herself, or who should have been invited to this particular gathering but was not.
In Africa today, President Obama said that he think he's a "pretty good president." So good, indeed, that if he ran for a third term, he "could win." But he cannot, he acknowledged, because it's against the law.
One might think that after the last Iraq war Democrats would be wary of allowing intelligence to dictate policy. Yet that is effectively what Barack Obama has done with the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action signed in Vienna on July 14. The agreement with Iran is strategically premised on the notion that greater commerce will transform the virulently anti-American, antisemitic, terrorism-fond, increasingly imperial Islamic Republic into something more pleasant. Tactically, the agreement depends on Western intelligence against the Iranian nuclear target.
In his first Inaugural Address, President Obama offered an open hand to the Iranian regime. On July 14, announcing the nuclear deal that is the culmination of that overture, he shook a closed fist at the American people. The president came out swinging—not at the regime in Tehran but at his predecessors in the Oval Office and in Congress who for decades imposed an increasingly tough sanctions regime on Iran.
President Obama had a moment of impressive moral clarity at his Iran press conference Wednesday. It was when he was asked about Bill Cosby.
“I’ll say this: If you give a woman—or a man, for that matter—without his or her knowledge, a drug, and then have sex with that person without consent, that’s rape.” And, Obama continued, “I think this country, any civilized country, should have no tolerance for rape.”
‘Without this deal,” said President Obama on Tuesday, “there is no scenario where the world joins us in sanctioning Iran until it completely dismantles its nuclear program.” That was nothing new. Throughout the negotiations with Iran, “the world” has been one of the president’s favorite defenses against criticism. “Nothing we know about the Iranian government suggests that it would simply capitulate under that kind of pressure,” he continued. “And the world would not support an effort to permanently sanction Iran into submission.”
Our attention was drawn last week to the presidential campaign of Lindsey Graham. The Scrapbook likes and admires Graham, the veteran Republican senator from South Carolina, but concedes that he is probably not the likely nominee. Graham’s specialty is foreign relations, which never plays a prominent role in primary politics, and he doesn’t have much of a campaign staff or fundraising apparatus.