It has come to this: The GOP, formerly the party of Lincoln and ostensibly the party of liberty and limited government, is being defined by clamors for a mass roundup and deportation of millions of human beings. To will an end is to will the means for the end, so the Republican clamors are also for the requisite expansion of government's size and coercive powers.
Most of Donald Trump's normally loquacious rivals are swaggeringly eager to confront Vladimir Putin, but are too invertebrate —Lindsey Graham is an honorable exception — to voice robust disgust with Trump and the spirit of, the police measures necessary for, and the cruelties that would accompany, his policy. The policy is: "They've got to go."
"They," the approximately 11.3 million illegal immigrants (down from 12.2 million in 2007), have these attributes: Eighty-eight percent have been here at least five years. Of the 62 percent who have been here at least 10 years, about 45 percent own their own homes. About half have children who were born here and hence are citizens. Dara Lind of Vox reports that at least 4.5 million children who are citizens have at least one parent who is an illegal immigrant.
Trump evidently plans to deport almost 10 percent of California's workers, and 13 percent of that state's K-12 students. He is, however, at his most Republican when he honors family values: He proposes to deport intact families, including children who are citizens. "We have to keep the families together," he says, "but they have to go." Trump would deport everyone, then "have an expedited way of getting them 'the good ones'; 'when somebody is terrific' back." Big Brother government will identify the "good" and "terrific" from among the wretched refuse of other teeming shores.
Trump proposes seizing money that illegal immigrants from Mexico try to send home. This might involve sacrificing mail privacy, but desperate times require desperate measures. He would vastly enlarge the federal government's enforcement apparatus, but he who praises single-payer health care systems and favors vast eminent domain powers has never made a fetish of small government.
Today's big government finds running Amtrak too large a challenge, and Trump's roundup would be about 94 times larger than the wartime internment of 117,000 persons of Japanese descent. But Trump wants America to think big. The big costs, in decades and dollars (hundreds of billions), of Trump's project could be reduced if, say, the targets were required to sew yellow patches on their clothing to advertise their coming expulsion. There is precedent.
Birthright citizenship, established by the 14th Amendment and opposed by Trump and his emulators, accords with America's natural-rights doctrine. Arguably, this policy is unwise. But is this an argument Republicans should foment in the toxic atmosphere Trump has created, an argument that would injure the next Republican nominee even more than Mitt Romney injured himself? Romney, who advocated making illegal immigrants' lives so unpleasant they would "self-deport," might be president if he had received 10 points more than his 27 percent of the Hispanic vote.
About 900,000 Hispanic citizens reach voting age each year. In 2012, less than half of eligible Hispanics voted, but Republicans have figured out how to increase Hispanic turnout.
A substantial majority of Americans — majorities in all states — and, in some polls, a narrow majority of Republicans favor a path for illegal immigrants not just to legal status but to citizenship. Less than 20 percent of Americans favor comprehensive deportation.
This may, however, be changing now that so many supposed Republicans embrace a candidate who, six years into Ronald Reagan's presidency, disparaged Ronald Reagan as someone who tried to "con" the public. Looking on the bright side, perhaps Trump supporters are amiably broadminded in their embrace of a candidate who thinks we cannot presently be proud to be American citizens (he says his presidency will enable us to again be proud).
If, after November 2016, there are autopsies of Republican presidential hopes, political coroners will stress the immigration-related rhetoric of August 2015. And of October 1884.
Then, the Republican presidential nominee, former Sen. James G. Blaine, returning home to Maine in the campaign's closing days, attended a New York rally on his behalf, where a prominent Protestant clergyman said Democrats were a party of "rum, Romanism and rebellion." Catholics, many of them immigrants, noticed. Blaine lost New York, and with it the presidency, by 1,200 votes out of more than one million cast.
The columnist's wife, Mari Will, works for Scott Walker.