Back in early June, just after Rick Perry’s announcement speech, I speculated as to whether the former Texas governor could bridge the Republican divide over immigration. Perry’s record on and experience with securing the border in Texas, combined with his compassionate and realistic approach toward immigration as a whole, seemed to be just the mix that could bring most GOP voters together on the issue and provide the Republican Party with a positive message with which to reach out to Latino voters. It would also give Republicans solid ground on which to effectively attack the radical and unworkable proposals of Hillary Clinton and the Democrats.
However, this opportunity was squandered shortly thereafter. Donald Trump’s hijacking of the Republican debate on immigration with his now infamous comments on Mexican illegal immigrants in his own announcement speech cast the GOP once again as anti-immigrant in the perceptions of many Latinos and began a cycle of intraparty mudslinging that has not yet subsided.
Of course, Trump deserved criticism for those remarks, and he has received plenty. In fact, Perry was one of the first to respond to Trump, in an online video released by his campaign which highlighted just the balance on immigration I believe might make Perry the best candidate on the issue. Since then, however, the conversation has devolved significantly.
In a speech yesterday, Perry once again raised the issue of Trump and immigration, though his comments seemed much more aimed at generating soundbytes than promoting substance. Perry called Trump’s candidacy a “cancer on conservatism,” said he was a “sower of division,” and dubbed his campaign a “modern-day incarnation of the know-nothing movement.” These were harsh words; perhaps accurate to some degree but not helpful beyond producing more media attention and perpetuating this increasingly ugly feud, to the delight of Democrats.
If Perry wants to engage in a spat of name calling, he’s found the perfect opponent; seemingly no one does it better than The Donald. And yet, is this really helpful to Perry’s campaign or to Republicans’ chances generally in 2016?
I would like to propose an alternate strategy. If Perry is truly interested in pursuing “the right thing to do,” why not refocus the debate away from personal attacks and back onto the real issue: immigration.
It’s no secret many Republican voters are fed up with Washington’s apparent inability to tackle the problems posed by illegal immigration, and, with all due respect to Frank, it’s likely this frustration has at least partially helped to bolster Trump’s support. Despite this, however, Trump has provided very little in the way of details as to how he would address the problem he has done so well to bring into the spotlight (beyond, of course, his quixotic proposal of forcing Mexico to pay for a wall on our southern border).
Perry is clearly well versed on the issue of border security and has real experience in dealing with the issue of illegal immigration. He has already put forward a plan; why not challenge Trump to produce one of his own? If Trump truly considers himself qualified for the office of President and is serious about making immigration one of his key issues, shouldn’t he be able to explain to voters exactly what he would do to work toward a solution (including on legal immigration as well)?
Some may argue this kind of conversation is what the primary debates are for. However, Perry currently has no guarantee of a spot in those debates. And even if he did, why ought candidates to confine serious policy discussions to just a few hours in a handful of debates?
Carly Fiorina has it right. Republican voters are smart and surely want to have this conversation. Furthermore, the sooner candidates stop bashing each other, the sooner they can begin to place the focus squarely back where it belongs: on Hillary Clinton and the Democrats’ extreme stances.
While snide tweets and smashing cell phones may make for good entertainment, it’s time to grow up and return to the tasks at hand: winning the White House in 2016 and fixing a dysfunctional immigration system. How else can Republican candidates prove to a skeptical electorate that they are fit to lead?
Paul Dupont is a legislative assistant for American Principles in Action.