The Corner

Politics & Policy

Tom Cotton, Lindsey Graham, and the Future of the GOP

1. Tom Cotton has strengthened his chances of being the Republican presidential nominee someday. He was the most effective Trump surrogate and has earned the “fighter” reputation that Cruz wanted so desperately. He needs a broader populist economic policy to go along with his support for transitioning to a system of high-skill immigration. He should work with Senator Mike Lee on pro-parent tax policy and with James Capretta on health care. A populism that is only about immigration isn’t populist. He also needs to come up with an interpretation of what happened in the Iraq War that reassures people he won’t repeat George W. Bush’s mistakes.

2. One thing that doesn’t seem to be talked about is that Trump had relatively few downside risks in this fight — as long as he didn’t give in to the Democrats. Trump has spent the last year being on the wrong side of 25–60 splits, as he was stuck with unpopular policies proposed by the GOP Capitol Hill leadership. The government shutdown pretty much united center-right opinion in opposition to Schumer’s tactics. Just getting the GOP electorate behind him represents an improvement in Trump’s political fortunes. The only figures on the right that supported the Democrats were either media figures who had already forfeited whatever center-right audience they ever had (Jennifer Rubin, Evan McMullin, Joe Scarborough) or they were a couple of Republican senators who were fanatically committed to expanding low-skill immigration.

3. The crux of the debate the last week was whether those who received amnesty under a codified DACA would be able to eventually bring in their uncles, aunts, and cousins. If Jeff Flake, Lindsey Graham, and the Democrats had been willing to give ground on “chain migration,” we could probably have had a deal. The problem is that Flake, Graham, and the congressional Democrats prioritize future immigration over the interests of our current unauthorized immigrants. They go on camera and talk about being humane, but they would sooner see every unauthorized immigrant die “in the shadows” than make amnesty contingent on internal workplace enforcement and transitioning to a popular system based on skill and English proficiency.

4. Lindsey Graham and Jeff Flake are in the same position that Democratic senator Joe Lieberman was in 2008. Lieberman thought the Iraq War was a good idea, but this view was toxic within his party and unpopular in the country. The vast majority of Americans don’t want increased immigration, and Americans of all parties favor shifting our current immigration flows in the direction of skills and English proficiency.

In August 2017, Jeff Flake wrote an op-ed making the case for expanded low-skill immigration. In October 2017, Flake announced he was retiring from the Senate (in order to avoid a humiliating and overwhelming primary defeat). Lindsey Graham’s shilling for Schumer should leave him vulnerable to a primary challenge in 2020.

If the Trumpites had any discipline and organizational skill, they would find and vet some very boring, conventionally conservative person (even if they were altogether obscure) who disagrees with Graham on immigration, and use social media (maybe with a Twitter assist from the president) to fundraise and build name recognition. Make a simple case. Let the latent hostility to Graham’s extremism do the rest of the work.

Instead, they will probably dig up some sex criminal who thinks slavery was great for family values, and that Mossad steals socks from his dryer.

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