Debate Shows Republican Schism on Immigration

Jeb Bush and Donald Trump shake hands after the Republican presidential debate Tuesday. Jeb Bush and Donald Trump shake hands after the Republican presidential debate Tuesday. Morry Gash/AP

Rarely has the Re­pub­lic­an Party’s split on im­mig­ra­tion been as clear as Tues­day night, when the GOP’s high-pro­file can­did­ates clashed over what to do about mil­lions of un­doc­u­mented im­mig­rants liv­ing in the United States.

Busi­ness mogul Don­ald Trump un­leashed his im­mig­ra­tion talk­ing points on stage. Amer­ica needed a wall, he said to pro­tect the coun­try from il­leg­al im­mig­ra­tion: “We will have a wall. The wall will be built. The wall will be suc­cess­ful. If you don’t think walls work, ask Is­rael,” Trump said. “The wall works, be­lieve me. Prop­erly done. Be­lieve me.”

Only this time, Trump was con­fron­ted with two of the party’s mod­er­ates who are vy­ing for a gasp at the spot­light as they struggle to break through in a crowded and con­ser­vat­ive primary field. Both former Flor­ida Gov. Jeb Bush and Ohio Gov. John Kasich leaped at the op­por­tun­ity to strike ra­tionale in­to the heart of Trump’s im­mig­ra­tion policy. Part of Trump’s plan has in­cluded de­port­ing the roughly 11 mil­lion im­mig­rants already resid­ing in the coun­try il­leg­ally.

“Come on, folks, we all know you can’t pick them up and ship them across the bor­der,” Kasich an­nounced on stage be­fore call­ing Trump’s plan plain “silly.”

“It is not an adult ar­gu­ment. It makes no sense,” Kasich said.

Kasich said he sup­por­ted a plan to al­low many of the im­mig­rants already in the coun­try to get on a path to leg­al status. Bush chimed in that if more Re­pub­lic­an can­did­ates con­tin­ued to talk like Trump rather than Kasich, the GOP would en­danger it­self ahead of the gen­er­al elec­tion.

“They’re do­ing high-fives in the Clin­ton cam­paign right now as they hear this,” Bush said about the im­mig­ra­tion de­bate in the GOP.

Ever since Don­ald Trump entered the GOP race and dis­paraged the im­mig­rants cross­ing the bor­der in­to the United States il­leg­ally, the Re­pub­lic­an Party has struggled to make in­roads with Latino voters. The Re­pub­lic­an Na­tion­al Com­mit­tee had hoped this cycle would be an op­por­tun­ity for Re­pub­lic­ans to im­prove upon Mitt Rom­ney’s paltry per­form­ance with the His­pan­ic elect­or­ate, which yiel­ded him just 27 per­cent of the vote. In­stead, many con­ser­vat­ives vy­ing for Trump sup­port­ers have found them­selves try­ing to im­it­ate Trump’s tone rather than dis­tance them­selves from it. Tues­day night, Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas said he was sick and tired of his law and or­der im­mig­ra­tion policies be­ing viewed as anti-im­mig­rant.

“The polit­ics of it would be very dif­fer­ent if a bunch of law­yers and bankers were cross­ing the Rio Grande,” Cruz said.

But, at the end of the day, the tussle on stage re­minded voters of one thing: The GOP is about as di­vided as ever on the is­sue of im­mig­ra­tion.

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