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On immigration, DeSantis is racing Trump to the bottom

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I don’t know if Gov. Ron DeSantis’s duplicitous move sending migrants to Martha’s Vineyard will help him politically. One fallout from his cynical ploy will be to accelerate his showdown with Donald Trump.

You could sell tickets to a fight between these two tough, mean, unprincipled brawlers. It won’t be an ideological struggle; ideas are transactional for Trump, not much different for the Florida governor. DeSantis is smarter; Trump is shrewder.

It’ll be a race to the bottom.

Scared politicians — those enablers who were silent when aware of Trump’s transgressions and fear DeSantis may be a clone — will have to choose sides; neutrality is unacceptable to these gut fighters.

Foremost may be Senate GOP leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), who made a miscalculation in deciding not to convict Trump in his second impeachment though he thought he was guilty. (The Kentucky Senator, who has contempt for Trump, pointedly praised DeSantis, declaring that sending those migrants was a “good idea.”)

As interesting will be watching the craven right-wing evangelicals who put their moral values in a blind trust during the Trump presidency.

The treatment of these migrants — they are seeking asylum, most from communist Venezuela — is a moral matter. Those being flown or bused from Texas and Arizona include children.

Yet Robert Jeffress, of the First Baptist Church in Dallas, who was a big Trump supporter, is in DeSantis’s corner. He says the blame should be on those who won’t secure the border — he means Joe Biden.

The Florida governor was doing a favor for these new arrivals: “Busing illegal immigrants to Washington, D.C. or Martha’s Vineyard is not exactly the same as Siberia,” the pastor declared. “Most Americans would love the opportunity to visit either destination.”

Apart from the factual errors — they aren’t illegal immigrants, and they were flown, not bused, to the Vineyard — here’s an idea: The good reverend should take a vacation and ask Texas Gov. Greg Abbott to let him accompany the migrants the next time he buses some to a northern paradise.

The Rev. Franklin Graham, son of the late Billy Graham, likewise says the situation is caused by the Biden administration. While he says immigrants should be “dealt with compassionately,” governors like DeSantis “are trying to get the attention of Washington — and it is working.”

Most other right-wing evangelicals I contacted are ducking the issue.

Ralph Reed, the political operative, replied that he’s spoken on immigration but not on the migrant controversy. Richard Land, once a big deal in Southern Baptist politics, the Rev. Paula White, who practices prosperity theology and ministered to former President Trump when he was in office, and the Southern Baptist Convention didn’t answer requests about their views.

This is not about immigration policy. Even those who favor a much more restrictive policy should condemn using desperate people and their children as political props. That’s what DeSantis did. As Popular Information’s Judd Legum revealed, his agents told the migrants about great benefits and opportunities awaiting them in Massachusetts, a hoax to get them to “volunteer” to take the flight north.

This may result in lawsuits, and a Texas sheriff is looking into criminal charges.

DeSantis was raised Catholic and appears to have begun to flirt with, if not embrace the notion that America is “a Christian nation.” His actions, however, are as hypocritical as Trump.

There are scores of Biblical references about the humane treatment of immigrants, strangers. The governor seems to have missed these.

Catholic bishops in Florida, Texas, Massachusetts and elsewhere have stressed the moral issue in condemning DeSantis and the governors of Texas and Arizona. San Antonio Archbishop Gustavo Garcia-Siller said “to use migrants and refugees as pawns offends God, destroys society and shows how low individuals can (stoop) for personal gain.” He likens this to “human trafficking.” Bishop Daniel E. Flores of Brownsville, Texas, warns that “the judgment on Christians who disrespect the poor will be most severe.”

But in any contest with Trump, the reigning champion immigration basher, this won’t hurt politically. 

Trump still runs well ahead in national surveys, but a poll last week in Florida, where both men reside, had DeSantis beating Trump.

And don’t expect the Florida governor to back down on migrants. Like Trump, he believes contrition is for the weak. Earlier this year DeSantis told a Cuban group that comparing the plight of these unaccompanied children arriving now from Latin America to the welcome mat put out for Cuban children in the 1960s was “disgusting.” The Archbishop of Miami, Thomas E. Wenski, was appalled: “No child should be deemed ‘disgusting’ especially by a public servant.” DeSantis’s flak accused the Bishop of “lying.”

That is so Trumpian.

Al Hunt is the former executive editor of Bloomberg News. He previously served as reporter, bureau chief and Washington editor for The Wall Street Journal. For almost a quarter century he wrote a column on politics for The Wall Street Journal, then The International New York Times and Bloomberg View. He hosts Politics War Room with James Carville. Follow him on Twitter @AlHuntDC.

Tags 2024 presidential race Compassion Donald Trump evangelical Christians Evangelicals for Trump Florida politics Franklin Graham Greg Abbott Immigration immigration policy Joe Biden Martha's Vineyard migrants Mitch McConnell opinion polls Paula White Ralph Reed Republican Party Robert Jeffress Ron DeSantis trumpism

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