Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

At Debate, Tough Immigration Talk Shows GOP Challenge in Winning Latino Votes

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

At Debate, Tough Immigration Talk Shows GOP Challenge in Winning Latino Votes

Article excerpt

On the divisive issue of immigration, the tone at Thursday night's Republican presidential debate ranged from compassionate (Jeb Bush) to harsh (Donald Trump). But no matter the tone - or the policy - the eventual GOP nominee will have a very tough time winning crucial Latino votes in the general election.

When it comes to the competing demands of the primary season and general election, perhaps no other issue disadvantages Republicans more than immigration. On Thursday night, the candidates emphasized border security - an appeal to the Republican base. No one advocated a path to citizenship for the millions of undocumented workers in America, which is favored by Latino voters.

"Most of the candidates are trying to avoid what to do with the 11 or 12 million who are here, mostly because Republicans want border security," says Matt Mackowiak, a GOP consultant based in Texas. "This is going to be a major issue in the primary and the general."

That was clear from Thursday night, in which Chris Wallace, one of the Fox News moderators, questioned six of the 10 candidates about immigration.

Mr. Bush, Florida's former governor, stood by his previous comment that immigration - including illegal immigration - is "an act of love," saying that people come to the United States to provide for their families. He then quickly outlined his plan to stem the illegal flow, ending with a path to "earned legal status" for those already in the country.

If legal status is deemed "amnesty" by some conservatives, eventual citizenship is considered even worse because it rewards those who broke the law with the highest rights under the law.

Gov. Scott Walker of Wisconsin was asked to explain why he walked back his support for a path to citizenship. He answered simply, "because I listened to the American people."

That's what Mr. Trump says he's doing, telling Mr. Wallace that immigration "was not a subject that was on anybody's mind until I brought it up at my announcement."

The reality TV star and real estate mogul caused an uproar when he said during the announcement of his candidacy in June that Mexico is sending rapists, drugs, and crime across the US border through illegal immigration. On Thursday, he defended his "tell-it-like-it- is" comments on this and other subjects.

"We don't have time for tone," he said. "We've got to get out and get the job done." In this case, he said, quickly build a wall at the border, but give it a "big, beautiful door" for legal entrants.

Trump's brash tone on immigration helped shoot him to the top of the crowded GOP field, but that will come at a cost if he were to become the nominee.

In July, a Univision poll found that 79 percent of Hispanic voters found Trump's comments at his announcement offensive, and 71 hold an unfavorable view of him.

Republicans warned against an off-putting tone on immigration in their "autopsy" of their failed presidential bid in 2012. …

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