How Immigration Split the GOP

If voter turnout is any indication of enthusiasm, then Republicans are more motivated than ever to participate in choosing who will not only represent them in the election against Hillary, but also define the future of the party in other elections.

The passion that’s stirring Republicans has found a voice in the vitriol of the bombastic billionaire and GOP frontrunner, Donald Trump, whose presence in the Republican field has split the Grand Old Party and threatened to hand the presidency over to a Democrat who’s under criminal investigation by the FBI.

The recent GOP primaries have received record-breaking turnout rates, outperforming the Democrats by a wide margin in almost every state. Among the eleven states that participated in Super Tuesday, for example, Republicans outperformed Democrats by a margin of 36 percent, meaning that 2.6 million more people voted for a Republican candidate than for a Democratic candidate.

The impressive turnout has led some to conclude that Trump stands a decent chance of defeating Hillary Clinton in the general election, but the opposite seems more likely. Trump’s favorability ratings are so negative that swing voters would flock to Hillary en masse, and the party would lose the support of the 30 percent of Republicans who have said that they would never vote for the aspiring tyrant.

Granted, Trump has amassed a large number of committed followers who have generally refrained from voting in the past, but he has roused an equal, if not greater number of detractors against him even within the Republican Party. As the reality TV star’s nomination has seemed more inevitable, a campaign has developed under the slogan #NeverTrump in an effort to stop Trump from hijacking the GOP and the conservative movement.

Formerly disinterested, moderate Republicans, committed conservatives, and the establishment faithful have vehemently declared their unequivocal opposition to Trump, whose liberal background, authoritarian overtones, petty acrimony, and unprincipled policy convulsions disqualify him from being the conservative choice for the presidency. 

Trump’s presence in the Republican primaries has exacerbated a divide among the party’s electorate that is threatening to fracture the GOP completely. If he is the nominee, then along with assuring another Clinton presidency, the party will likely see a mass exodus of conservatives from its ranks and will no longer be able to claim itself as the conservative standard bearer.

To offset the loss of stalwart conservatives who would rather vote for Hillary than see a man like Trump in the White House, remaining Republicans would be forced to collaborate with a candidate whom they have few means of keeping under control. Many establishment Republicans would have to embrace the loose cannon and his strategy of carving out an electorate of “right-wing crazies” in order to maintain the party’s presidential aspirations. In this way, the GOP would officially become a party that defines itself almost solely by its racial makeup, a party that once again overlooks the obscene racism of David Duke, and defers to an influential bloc of white supremacists.

The Republican Party of Donald Trump, with its key demographic of poor, white males, will not survive long in the future of American politics. According to Pew Research Center, by 2050, whites will make up 47 percent of the country while Hispanics will grow to 27 percent. That is why, after Romney lost the election, the establishment saw the changing demographics and the declining influence of the white electorate as a threat to the party’s future.

They had two options, they could either try to take a share of the Hispanic electorate from Democrats, or they could try to stop immigration altogether. They resolved to gain support among Hispanics, whom they suppose to have a vested interest in immigration policy, by running candidates such as Marco Rubio and supporting immigration reform.

The party was not wrong to believe that the Hispanic vote presented an opportunity for growth, considering that many American Hispanics are deeply Christian and hold similar policy beliefs when it comes to education, jobs, spending, and other issues. Almost all Republicans already supported some kind of immigration reform, and half supported a path to citizenship, so the party hoped that stepping away from their traditional hardline approach to immigration would give the GOP its best chance to defeat a Democratic candidate in 2016.

As this election has showed us, however, opposition to immigration is deeply entrenched in the Republican base. What’s more, candidates who pushed for immigration reform did not earn a decisive share of the Hispanic vote. Although over half of the Hispanics planning to vote in the Republican primaries indicated Marco Rubio as their first or second choice for the nomination, his favorability among Hispanics does not cover the fact that only 14 percent of Hispanics plan to vote Republican in the general election.

Republican voters became increasingly angry at their party for promoting the interests of nonparty members over its own. When the Republican Party promoted bills such as the “Gang of Eight” bill, which was lenient towards immigration violations, but did nothing to stem the tide of illegal immigrants President Obama allowed to cross the border on a daily basis, it gave an opening to outsiders to run for the nomination. 

Donald Trump capitalized on voters’ anger and came to embody the resentment many Republicans felt towards the establishment. His support grew, not because of his beliefs—most of which are still unknown—but because of the rage he invoked against the party.

The strong reaction against GOP efforts to court Hispanic votes created a movement that has moved the party in the exact opposite direction. The dispute that has fractured the party now threatens to break it completely, expelling traditional conservatives and essentially reforming the Grand Old Party on the Know-Nothing principles that achieved popularity during America’s identity crisis of the mid-nineteenth century.