Polls indicate that support for Donald Trump is plateauing while key challengers like Ben Carson, Carly Fiorina and Marco Rubio are quickly gaining ground.
If this trend continues and Trump flames out, the Republican establishment shouldn’t simply dismiss his candidacy as a fad. There are lessons to be learned from Trump’s unexpected popularity. The most important one is that there is broad support for some components of his immigration platform, even among Hispanics.
Yes, you read that right.
Polls show that many Hispanics agree with Trump that illegal immigration is a huge problem. The eventual GOP nominee should, of course, reject the divisive, inflammatory language Trump has often used to make the case for reform. But there are smart policy ideas buried under all that rhetoric. They ought to be incorporated into the official party platform.
A recent poll by SurveyUSA shows Trump commands the support of 31 percent of Hispanics. That’s not only a higher share than Mitt Romney received in 2012 — it’s more than Republican George H.W. Bush received in 1988 when he won the general election.
Most Hispanics aren’t single-issue voters when it comes to immigration. A recent Gallup poll found that, among registered Latino voters, 67 percent are at least willing to support a candidate who doesn’t share their views on immigration. And 18 percent don’t consider the issue important to them at all.
What’s more, many Hispanic citizens have little sympathy for immigrants who haven’t played by the rules. Forty-two percent of American-born Hispanics disapprove of President Obama’s executive actions to prevent the deportation of illegal immigrants.
So while Trump has been incendiary, his message has nonetheless resonated with a significant share of Hispanic voters. It’s no surprise that immigrants who played by the rules disapprove of people who don’t.
With Trump on the wane, the GOP should pluck the good from his immigration stand and propose specific reforms.
As Trump has suggested, border enforcement should be a primary goal. Trump’s signature proposal, after all, is a wall along the Mexican border with “a big, beautiful door … so that people can come into this country legally.”
The GOP should fill in the details. For example, they need a strategy for finding and holding accountable immigrants who remain in the country longer than the law allows. Systems such as biometric exit points, which would track visitors through their fingerprints or photographs, could help ensure that the person leaving the country is the same one who entered.
Trump has also said that after deporting undocumented workers — who make up 5 percent of the U.S. labor force — he’d be willing to “invit[e] the good ones back.”
It’d be cheaper and more effective to skip the mass deportations and simply grant temporary work permits to certain illegal immigrants who pass a rigorous qualification process. These individuals would need to learn English, pay hefty monetary penalties for having violated the law, and pass a thorough background check.
The GOP should reject Trump’s hateful rhetoric while prioritizing serious immigration reform. That strategy will drive voters of all stripes, including Hispanics, to the polls next November.
Yuri Vanetik is a Lincoln Fellow at the Claremont Institute and serves on the national board of Gen Next and the Gen Next Foundation. Thomas Tucker is the co-founder of The New Majority.