Last night, Donald Trump outlined the core of a sensible, responsible immigration policy . . . and then promptly obscured that policy in an avalanche of over-the-top rhetoric, inane flourishes, and extravagant promises. He threw raw steaks at an audience hungry for red meat, and in so doing squandered a chance to persuade.
Let’s break this down into the basics. At its core, Trump’s ten-point plan turns on a few simple and sound concepts: It is the responsibility of the American president to secure the liberty and prosperity of the American people; for the sake of national security, economic stability, and cultural cohesion, a nation must be able to control its borders and regulate who enters the country; and those who enter the country must be people who will contribute to the health and vitality of the national community.
When it comes to enforcement, Trump’s priorities are correct. Illegal aliens who’ve committed additional crimes since entering America should, in fact, be the first to be deported. These individuals are already in the criminal-justice system, their immigration status is known, and they have demonstrated that they’re a harmful, dangerous presence in the United States.
Moreover, when speaking of the wave of refugees streaming from jihadist conflict zones in the Middle East, Trump rightly attacked the misconception that the “humane” response is to open our borders to migrants despite knowing that our jihadist enemy is attempting to infiltrate their ranks. In the aftermath of the Gulf War, when Saddam Hussein seemed poised to slaughter the Kurds, the United States established functional safe zones that allowed our Kurdish allies to survive and even thrive in place. We can and should do the same for Middle Eastern refugees today.
Unfortunately, Trump’s immigration views, even if sensibly expressed, are outside the mainstream of American public opinion. That wasn’t a problem in the Republican primary, where he appealed to a plurality that was apparently longing for a celebrity voice to confront the establishment on immigration (and virtually everything else). But it’s a problem now. A big problem.
Given that he’s staked so much of his message on immigration, and that a majority of voters disagree with his immigration stances, it’s imperative that Trump strove to persuade those voters that he’s right. But everything about the tone and flourishes of his speech last night seemed calculated to repel. There’s the bizarre wall fantasy, as if we’re going to get — for free! — some combination of the Great Wall of China and the Maginot Line on our southern border. There’s the bizarre safe-zone fantasy, as if we’re somehow going to have greater influence on the ground in Syria and Iraq by delegating responsibility for endangered refugees to alleged allies who’ve never demonstrated either the intention or the military capacity to make a decisive difference.
(We can’t just “supervise” the safe zones, we have to create them, and that means a greater, longer-lasting, more dangerous commitment in the Middle East. Who’s the globalist now?)
Thanks to Trump’s own blunders and failings, he’s blazing the trail for open borders, amnesty, and a path to citizenship.
The man takes a sound idea — for example, re-instituting the Cold War practice of ensuring that immigrants don’t “advocate or publish ‘the economic, international, and governmental doctrines’” of the precise ideology we’re fighting — and turns it into an “ideological certification” that exactly no one (outside his circle of true believers) trusts him to create, much less to enforce fairly and legally.
And he does it all with a tone that causes those who feel genuine and justifiable compassion for illegal immigrants peacefully working and raising families in this country to recoil at his obvious disdain. He does not communicate in the language of a leader making hard choices after balancing all the competing interests, but rather in the language of a man who’s punishing people he doesn’t like.
There is a powerful and, yes, compassionate argument for an immigration policy that is built around border security and domestic law enforcement. A president’s greatest priority is his citizens, and when there is powerful evidence that current immigration policy is harming the economic well-being and security of American families, there is an obligation to act.
#related#In politics, however, method and message tend to merge, so a terrible messenger often discredits an otherwise-worthy message. On immigration, this is precisely what we see today. If present trends continue and Trump loses a winnable race in large part because he’s engaged in behavior that he should know repels the majority of the electorate, then the practical result will be not just the dreadful immigration policies of Hillary Clinton but also grave damage to the conservative case for immigration policies that protect and maintain American liberty, security, and prosperity.
That is, in fact, Trump’s likely immigration legacy: Thanks to his own blunders and failings, he’s blazing the trail for open borders, amnesty, and a path to citizenship. He built this movement, and he’s the biggest reason it won’t achieve its most cherished aims.
— David French is an attorney, and a staff writer at National Review.