Juan Williams: Trump stokes Tea Party’s fire on immigration

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Here he is, the new leader of the Tea Party movement: Donald Trump.

Tea Party Republicans in Congress are using the businessman’s radical plan for mass deportation of illegal immigrants to regain their position at the forefront of GOP political debate.

Until Trump’s bid for the GOP 2016 presidential nomination caught fire, the Tea Party faithful in Congress were fizzling. Led by Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas), the best they could do recently was to propose ousting Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) and accuse Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) of telling “flat out” lies over the Ex-Im Bank.

But last week, the Tea Party gained new political life when Trump, the anti-establishment phenomenon in GOP summer politics, introduced a plan to limit legal immigration and conduct mass deportation of illegal immigrants.

Republican congressional fingerprints were all over the Trump proclamation.

Trump’s plan was written in consultation with Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.), chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee’s Immigration Subcommittee and a leading voice among Congressional Tea Party hardliners on immigration.

Rep. Steve King (R-Iowa), another Tea Party voice infamous for having condemned Mexican immigrants as people with “calves the size of cantaloupes” from allegedly hauling marijuana across the border, praised the Trump-Sessions blueprint.

King described the Trump proposal — a call for mass deportation of all the nation’s 11 million illegal immigrants, an end to birthright citizenship and new limits on legal immigration — as a “very, very positive document.” He summed it up as “bold…strong… it covers most of the things that you’d want to cover.”

Rep. Louie Gohmert (R-Texas), yet another Tea Party leader in favor of mass deportations, said Trump has “struck a nerve across America” because “he is not moved by the Chamber of Commerce and big business that want really cheap labor.” He said Trump’s immigration plan is a winner that “improves the GOP debate immeasurably.”

Right on cue, Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker (R), who once favored allowing illegal immigrants to gain citizenship but flip-flopped in search of Tea Party backing, said he now opposes birthright citizenship, too. (On Sunday, however, Walker flip-flopped yet again.) And, just like Trump, he is calling for a bigger wall along the U.S. border with Mexico. 

The Trump plan boils down to a single assertion: “They have to go.” It follows on from his claim — made in the speech that launched his campaign — that Mexico is sending known criminals and “rapists” into the U.S. 

Its most incredible proposal is to end the 14th Amendment’s promise of citizenship to children born in the U.S. The billionaire also proposes deporting youngsters who came to the U.S. as children, so-called Dreamers, who currently are a protected class under an executive order issued by President Obama.

Among the Republicans who joined the Trump-inspired anti-immigrant frenzy to seek an end to birthright citizenship were Walker, Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal and Sen. Lindsey Graham (S.C.). Back in 2011, Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.), introduced a proposal to limit birthright citizenship.

Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush (R) rejected “out of hand” Trump’s new plan to halt immigration. So did Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.). But Bush is suddenly defending the use of the loaded term “anchor baby,” which he has never used, for fear of being called politically correct.

The Tea Party tried to get one of its own nominated as the Republican nominee in 2012 and failed. Then-Rep. Michele Bachmann (Minn.), former Sen. Rick Santorum (Pa.) and businessman Herman Cain had their moments but faded as the prize went to a more mainstream politician – former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney.

Since then, the leaders of the Tea Party movement – former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin (R), Bachmann, former Rep. Allen West (R-Fla.), and media personalities such Glenn Beck – have lost the ability to command center stage in national politics.

{mosads}Until Trump’s rise, the Tea Party and its Freedom Caucus in Congress had been unable to push their anti-immigrant agenda on Capitol Hill. They had been frustrated despite Republican majorities in the House and Senate. Their only success came in blocking a bipartisan immigration reform plan that passed the Senate.

The stalemate on immigration was the latest sign that Tea Party passions, which gave Republicans control of the House in 2010, have largely fizzled. Healthcare reform – ObamaCare – is now certified as the law of the land by the Supreme Court. 

And with the GOP defending 24 Senate seats next November, including seven in states that voted for President Obama in both 2008 and 2012, the party needs its 2016 candidates to move to the middle, away from polarizing Tea Party rhetoric.

But now Trump’s success is countering any pressure for a more moderate GOP message on the issues, starting with immigration. The latest Wall Street Journal/NBC poll illustrates how a rising percentage of Republicans — now 43 percent — are backing Trump-like calls for mass deportation of illegal immigrants.

Yet even as Trump has won the support of anti-immigrant Republicans, most polls have shown more than 50 percent of Republicans backing a pathway to citizenship for illegal immigrants.

Roughly three quarters of all Americans — both Republicans and Democrats — favor allowing illegal immigrants to earn citizenship. Gallup polling in July had only 19 percent of Americans calling for mass deportation.

Trump is pulling the GOP to the right on immigration by galvanizing support among Tea Party voters. At the moment, that is good news for the Tea Party caucus in Congress. But once this moment fades, it will be good news for all in favor of having more Democrats in the Senate and a Democrat winning the White House in 2016.

Juan Williams is an author and political analyst for Fox News Channel.

Tags 2016 presidential election Donald Trump Illegal immigration Immigration Jeff Sessions Steve King
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