Donald Trump has rocketed to the top-tier of GOP presidential polls, so naturally the greatest concern of the mainstream media is to determine how forcefully Republican leaders will condemn him.
The GOP’s best short-term response to the Trump-sized immigration controversy? A clear, concise statement that acknowledges the obvious: “More than one thing can be true at the same time. It’s absolutely true that Mr. Trump’s disparaging remarks about Mexican immigrants were offensive, inappropriate and overly-broad, but it’s also true that the failure to secure our southern border is a serious problem that has led to crime, drug-smuggling, chaos and the deaths of innocent Americans.”
It’s critically important for the GOP to draw a distinction between Trump’s over-the-top rhetoric and the demonstrative, “real world” fallout of limitless, unregulated immigration.
Next, the Republican Party must spearhead a delicate balancing act, to avoid earmarking the nation’s fastest-growing minority group directly to the Democratic Party. Hispanics currently comprise 17 percent of the U.S. population and are projected to reach 30.2 percent by 2050. At a minimum, Trump’s comments were patently unhelpful at persuading a key voting block to reconsider a home in the Republican Party.
And “reconsider” is the right word: In 2012, Mitt Romney (whose father was born in Mexico) captured just 27 percent of the Latino vote.
But on the other hand, opinion poll after opinion poll has demonstrated that the American people want a more-secure border. It’s a winning issue for conservatives, particularly during GOP primaries. According to Gallup, 84 percent of Republicans and 54 percent of independents are dissatisfied with the current level of immigration.
The Democratic Party’s immigration goals are as transparent as Manti Te’o’s college girlfriend: An unlimited number of “undocumented workers” (because the phrase “illegal aliens” is offensive, of course) deserve to stay in a country that profits from their labor, and anyone who says otherwise is a racist. And just as importantly, branding Republicans as Mexican-hating bigots represents a generational opportunity to claim a permanent “ownership position” of Latino voters and thus gain an unsurmountable electoral majority. Ninety percent of African Americans already vote Democrat; the GOP cannot continue to exist as a national party if it ends-up forfeiting 90 percent of Latino voters as well.
So the real question is, how must the Republican Party market its immigration message to Latinos?
As unartful – and hurtful – as Trump’s language was, the bellicose billionaire has successfully elevated an issue that could potentially provide vast dividends for the Republican Party. It all depends on how the GOP’s “brand ambassadors” frame the immigration issue.
Here’s a PR primer:
The first step is to reboot and rebrand the immigration debate: This isn’t about racial politics or closing the southern border; it’s about “expanding the American Dream.” As good hosts, it’s our patriotic responsibility to ease an immigrant’s transition from new arrival to productive citizen, because the quicker someone can assimilate and become self-reliant, the more attainable prosperity becomes – and the Republican Party must position itself the Party of Prosperity. Per each of candidate’s presidential platform, Republicans need to enthusiastically – and passionately – support a specific number of new immigrants each year, and yes, financial resources must be allocated. Instead of being motivated by the desire to exclude, Republicans should be perceived as being motivated by the desire to be good-faith facilitators of the American Dream.
Welcoming immigrants with open arms is a critical component to rebranding the issue. This demonstrates compassion and inclusion, while also providing a common-sense rationale for turning others away: Reckless expansion would divert precious government resources from the legal immigrants who desperately need our help.
And most Latino voters arrived here legally.
The second step is to borrow from the Democrat’s playbook and focus on the children. It’s a “crime against the brand” for the pro-life party to be perceived as being cold-hearted to the plight of immigrant children. (And tactically, it’s worth noting that the Latino population veers young.) So embrace these children. Let them go to school. Encourage churches to include them in their charities. Love them, and do all you can to help them reach their full potential. A basic tenant of the pro-life philosophy is that every child is irreplaceable; demonstrate to Latino voters that this is something you truly, sincerely believe. (And it’s also worth noting that most Latinos are Catholic – a denomination strongly aligned with the pro-life precept.)
If the objective is winning elections, then it’s a tactical miscalculation for Republicans to focus their message on exclusively border control.
Millions of Latinos are deeply connected to the American immigration experience – either personally, socially, or via extended family – and understandably have a heightened sensitivity to incendiary rhetoric. They didn’t immigrate and become citizens out of malice; they did so because this is the Land of Opportunity.
These people are your target-audience. This debate is about them. It’s never been about anything else.
And thanks to Donald Trump, now’s the time for the GOP to place the focus where it belongs.