Newspaper article The Topeka Capital-Journal

Michael Gerson: Trump and the GOP's Dividing Lilne

Newspaper article The Topeka Capital-Journal

Michael Gerson: Trump and the GOP's Dividing Lilne

Article excerpt

Attempting to analyze statements by Donald Trump is often a high dive into a shallow pool. But a number of conservative commentators are making the jump, discerning hidden virtues in his depiction of marauding immigrants.

While finding Trump's words "crude and reprehensible," The Weekly Standard's William Kristol thinks they summarize a "genuine concern about illegal immigrants." "For all its crassness," says National Review's Rich Lowry, "Trump's rant on immigration is closer to reality than the gauzy cliches of immigration romantics."

Some of this is surely an attempt to make the best of a bad situation. But the reactions to Trump also indicate a serious debate between camps within the Republican Party.

One brand of Republican reformers -- the Rust Belt revivalists -- believe the GOP has been too dominated by corporate interests and needs to identify more directly with the economic frustrations of working-class voters. Trump is the cartoon version of this view. But Rick Santorum makes a similar economic case, proposing to cut immigration by 25 percent as part of a plan "to protect American workers from foreign labor that is taking jobs that Americans could otherwise hold."

In this strategy, there is an inherent tension between appealing to the white working class and appealing to immigrants. As a matter of policy, high levels of immigration consume public services and depress wages. As a matter of politics, the white working class remains the larger group of voters. A concentrated focus on their concerns, the argument goes, might open a path to victory through Ohio, Michigan and Pennsylvania.

Another group of reformers also believes the Republican Party is too closely identified with the boardroom. But they look at the declining percentage of white voters and argue the Republican coalition must be browner to win. …

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