Well that was fun, wasn’t it? On immigration, the 11 assembled GOP presidential candidates (15 if you count the “downticket” opening debate) gave up nothing brand new or heretofore unknown about their stances on immigration. But for viewers who made it that far into the night’s three-hour debate (four hours, including the opening act), the candidates gave a lesson in the predictable, nearly scripted, and entirely distorted approach to any talk of immigration reform and enforcement policy in today’s politics. It’s worth examining the playbook.
The first rule is that uttering some version of the phrase, “Secure the border first,” is the price of admission into the conversation about immigration policy. This is true for Democrats and Republicans alike, but particularly so for the GOP, whose brand is defined by hawkish, tough-guy bravado.
Carly Fiorina, the night’s early favorite, mentioned it in the opening minutes of the debate. “The border’s been insecure for 25 years,” she said. Donald Trump? Well, he said it in his own way. “First of all, I want to build a wall, a wall that works. So important, and it’s a big part of it. Second of all, we have a lot of really bad dudes in this country from outside, and I think Chris [Christie] knows that, maybe as well as anybody. They go, if I get elected. First day, they’re gone. Gangs all over the place. Chicago, Baltimore, no matter where you look.” That’s an actual quote.
“What we need to do is to secure the border, and we need to do it with more than just a wall,” Chris Christie contributed.
“She loves this country as much as anybody in this room, and she wants a secure border,” Jeb Bush offered, referring to his Mexican-born wife, Columba.