In the presidential campaign the top three Republicans, Cruz, Rubio and Trump, have also reversed their prior pro-immigration positions for political expediency. Are they sincere in their conversions to border enforcement and less immigration? Are politicians ever sincere in their conversions? Sometimes they are if is helps them electorally. The Republican electorate seems to have finally expressed a clear preference for less immigration rather than “comprehensive immigration reform” a euphemism for amnesty and more legal immigration. As I’ve noted here for months, Trump exploded onto the national scene with his strong anti-illegal immigration position and the blunt way in which he phrased it. Once he gained traction it was clear the others would follow him.
But the Republican donor class does not want the border enforced and is hugely enriched by an unlimited supply of cheap labor. Those people are shrewdly not airing their opinions in public. They understand the mood of the electorate and the need to remain invisible until the campaign is over. It’s very telling that since the Republicans won the House and the Senate last year, they have not tried to enact an immigration bill to do the very things the presidential candidates are advocating. Speaker Paul Ryan even stated on 60 Minutes that there would be no mass deportations of the millions of illegal immigrants as long as he was in power. That’s code for maintaining the status quo. He is the voice of the pro-business, pro-immigration anti-enforcement Chamber of Commerce type Republican that still holds sway in Washington.
National Review Magazine, the first modern conservative publication, used to advocate this point of view. It has switched to the point where it now advocates strict enforcement, less legal immigration, and says any Republican who complains of a “worker shortage” of that there are jobs “Americans just won’t do” should be pelted off the public stage. This did not happen since Trump entered the presidential race. The editors have gradually shifted to the right on immigration over a decade. (They also despise Trump and believe his is insincere in his current immigration views.) NR readership is probably divided on the immigration issue but tilting in favor of restriction.
To answer my question, the Republican party cannot make up its mind on immigration. It is still at the donor and congressional levels, the party of capitalism, employers, and loves the benefits that high levels of immigration bring. At the mass activist level, where presidential campaigns are staffed (not financed), it is sick of immigration, legal and illegal. If Trump or Cruz is elected president, things will have to change at all levels. If Rubio is elected, which now seems more likely, we are in for a period of open conflict over immigration. He is utterly insincere about this issue, but his insincerity has led him to a position he will not be permitted to retreat from. He must enforce the border and control illegal immigration. He has said that so clearly that it cannot be disregarded like a lot of campaign promises. Even that by itself is a seismic shift for the Republicans.