Whatever you think of Donald Trump — and, for the record, I still consider him (and Hillary Clinton) unfit to be president — if you care about immigration policy and believe it’s important to America’s future, you really should read the prepared text of his Phoenix speech.
I say “read the prepared text” because Trump’s delivery, ad-libbing, and theatrics distracted from the speech’s substantive content.
“As usual,” wrote UC-Davis professor Norman Matloff a day later, “Trump’s tone and language (including body language) last night were too over-the-top for my taste. But contentwise, there actually was very little in his speech that most Americans would find seriously objectionable.”
National Review’s David French made a similar point: “Donald Trump outlined the core of a sensible, responsible immigration policy . . . and then promptly obscured that policy in an avalanche of over-the-top rhetoric, inane flourishes, and extravagant promises.”
The obvious danger, French noted, is that “a terrible messenger often discredits an otherwise-worthy message.”
Trump’s worthy message, in a nutshell, is that America’s current immigration policies, including our policies on legal immigration, are not serving our country’s best interests. In a different era — as recently as the mid-1990s, in fact — the bulk of his proposals would not have been controversial at all.
Indeed, as David Frum of The Atlantic points out, many of Trump’s supposedly “shocking” statements about immigration are manifestly true. For example, certain immigrants really are more likely to assimilate than others. Illegal immigrants really do place a burden on government finances. And resolving the official status of the millions living here illegally is not the central immigration question facing U.S. policymakers.
For all his loutish behavior and manifold flaws as a candidate — again, I still don’t think he’s fit to be president — Trump deserves credit for his substantive contributions to America’s immigration debate. Yet because of his loutish behavior and manifold flaws, Trump has also made conservative immigration reform seem far less reasonable than it actually is.
“If Trump loses,” writes National Review editor Rich Lowry, “this agenda will be discredited and restrictionists will instantly be as embattled as ever, once again fighting a desperate rear-guard action against a political establishment and opinion elite that consider its priorities bizarre and hateful.”