The GOP’s Border War

Donald Trump and Jeb Bush are polar opposites on immigration. Where on the spectrum will the GOP fall?

Donald Trump and Jeb Bush are polar opposites on immigration. Where on the spectrum will the GOP fall?
Jeb Bush (right) called Donald Trump’s remarks on immigration “extraordinarily ugly” and “not reflective of the Republican Party.”

Illustration by Slate. Photos by Ethan Miller/Getty Images and Andrew H. Walker/Getty Images.

Donald Trump and Jeb Bush are locked in mutual antipathy over the question of immigration. Their sparring stems from Trump’s remarks at his June 16 presidential announcement about the kinds of people who come to America from Mexico.

“When Mexico sends its people, they’re not sending their best,” Trump said. “They’re sending people that have lots of problems … they’re bringing drugs, they’re bringing crime. They’re rapists. And some, I assume, are good people.” Trump has since stood by those remarks even as companies from NBC to NASCAR have cut their business ties with the real estate tycoon. Friday, Trump pointed to the death of a San Francisco woman, Kate Steinle, the victim of a random shooting by an undocumented worker, as proof of his claim.

Bush, several weeks after Trump’s original remarks, joined a chorus of GOP voices distancing themselves from Trump. The former Florida governor said Trump’s remarks were “extraordinarily ugly” and “not reflective of the Republican Party.” Bush also speculated about Trump’s motives. “He’s doing this to inflame and incite and to draw attention, which seems to be the organizing principle of his campaign.”

Trump has been relentlessly critical of Bush, but this isn’t just a slap fight between two rivals. Trump and Bush represent the opposite ends of the ideological spectrum on immigration in the 2016 nominating race. A year ago Bush said this about immigrants who came to America illegally:

The way I look at this is someone who comes to our country because they couldn’t come legally, they come to our country because their families—the dad who loved their children—was worried that their children didn’t have food on the table. And they wanted to make sure their family was intact, and they crossed the border because they had no other means to work to be able to provide for their family. Yes, they broke the law, but it’s not a felony. It’s an act of love. It’s an act of commitment to your family. I honestly think that that is a different kind of crime that there should be a price paid, but it shouldn’t rile people up that people are actually coming to this country to provide for their families. 

It is widely accepted that the Republican Party was hurt in the 2012 election when Mitt Romney said that immigrants in the United States illegally should “self-deport.” Romney himself says he paid politically in the general election for the remark and the idea behind it, which was that anti-immigrant policies would be so tough and life so miserable for immigrants that they’d deport themselves. 

Now the Republican Party has a candidate with a more gentle view and an even harsher one. The Republican Party’s primary will accomplish several things. One of them will be to decide where on this new immigration spectrum the GOP’s reputation falls.