Immigration hardliner Mark Krikorian finds a silver lining in Donald Trump’s ham-handed softening on immigration:
Trump probably just threw away his only remaining chance to win in November with Wednesday’s Jeb Bush impersonation. He won the primaries with immigration control as his marquee issue; had he stuck to his guns, and still lost, the GOP Brain Trust, not to mention the Democrats, would more plausibly have been able to argue that opposition to their agenda was the reason.
….But now that he’s channeling Little Marco and Low-Energy Jeb on immigration, that story line has evaporated….It’s liberating, in a sense. While Trump was still clearly seen as the voice of immigration skepticism, I was worried that his oafish shenanigans would taint the immigration issue, especially if he was defeated by Hillary. But now that he’s no longer that voice in any meaningful sense, I can watch the circus undisturbed. His defeat will be on his head alone.
When a party loses an election, the arguments afterward inevitably coalesce into two sides:
- We were too extreme. We need to move to the center.
- We were too moderate. America wants a genuine liberal/conservative.
Republicans have been arguing the latter for years. They’ve retroactively decided that George Bush wasn’t a real conservative. John McCain wasn’t a real conservative. Mitt Romney wasn’t a real conservative.
But Trump provides them with a problem because he’s hard to pigeonhole. He’s a hardline conservative on some things, but totally off the reservation on others. So if he loses, the party is going to have a bloody civil war over what to do next.
Krikorian was worried that if an immigration hardliner lost in a landslide, Republicans would conclude that they really did need to compromise on some kind of moderate comprehensive immigration plan and put the issue behind them. He was right to be worried about this. But now he’s a happy man. He can plausibly argue that Trump lost because he softened on immigration. This ignores the fact that Trump has been way behind in the polls ever since the conventions and was headed for defeat even before the Great Softening, but at least it’s a reed he can cling to. Hope lives on.