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This Old Video Shows How Low GOP Has Sunk Since Reagan

The immigration policies of Donald Trump’s presidency would have no room for his GOP predecessors Ronald Reagan or George H.W. Bush—who both embraced work visas, family unification, easy border crossings and a better relationship with Mexico.

That counterpoint can be seen in a very short video clip from the 1980 presidential election where Reagan and Bush—who became Reagan’s vice president for two terms before winning the presidency in 1988—were asked about immigration at a campaign debate in Texas. Their responses show just how far to the right the Republican Party’s current leader, President Trump, and voters who have not left the GOP to become self-described political independents, have moved on immigration.

The responses by Bush and Reagan in a 1980 televised debate sound like today’s Democrats. The exchange was prompted by a two-part question from an audience member: should “the children of illegal aliens… be allowed to attend Texas public schools free? Or do you think that their parents should pay for their education?”

Bush was first to reply, beginning, “I’d like to see something done about the illegal alien problem that would be so sensitive and so understanding about labor needs and human needs that that problem wouldn’t come up. But today if those people are here, I would reluctantly say I think they would get whatever it is—what the society is giving to their neighbors.”

He continued, saying undocumented immigration needed solutions and offering some.

“But the problem has to be solved,” Bush said. “Because as we have made illegal some kinds of labor that I’d like to see legal, we’re doing two things. We’re creating a whole society of really honorable, decent, family-loving people that are in violation of the law. And secondly, we’re exacerbating relations with Mexico. … These are good people, strong people—part of my family is Mexican.”

Bush went even further, saying that immigrant children should not be criminalized.

“The answer to your question is much more fundamental than whether they attend Houston schools, it seems to me,” he said. “I don’t want to see a whole… [generation]—think of six- and eight-year-old kids being… uneducated and made to feel that they’re living outside the law. Let’s address ourselves to the fundamentals.”

When Reagan’s turn to speak came, the former two-term California governor did not disagree, but said he wanted to “add to that.”

“I think the time has come that the United States and our neighbors, particularly our neighbor to the south, should have a better understanding and a better relationship than we’ve ever had,” Reagan said. “And I think that we haven’t been sensitive enough to our size and our power.”

Reagan said a smart policy would address the realities of economic insecurity in Mexico and seek to make the region—Central America—more stable.

“They have a problem of 40 to 50 percent unemployment,” he said. “Now, this cannot continue without the possibility arising, with regard to that other country that we talked about—if Cuba and what it is stirring up—the possibility of trouble below the border, and we could have a very hostile and strange neighbor on our border.”

Reagan, like Bush, said a working border, not a walled divide, was the best solution.

“Rather than talking about putting up a fence, why don’t we work out some recognition of our mutual problems, make it possible for them to come here legally with a work permit,” he said. “And then while they’re working and earning here, they pay taxes here. And when they want to go back, they can go back, and they can cross. And open the border both ways, by understanding their problems.”

Both Reagan and Bush, as presidents, signed immigration legislation. Reagan granted amnesty to 3 million undocumented residents in 1986. Bush signed legislation in 1990 supporting family unification and offering “temporary protected status” for people who were fleeing from armed conflicts or environmental disasters. It also removed language allowing border agents to block the admission of “suspected homosexuals.”

At the time these laws passed, immigration reforms were controversial—but attitudes among opponents were not as hard-line as they appear to be among GOP loyalists today. In the 1990s, American attitudes toward immigration began a rightward shift more in response to the rise of conservative media than economic fears, the Stanford Humanities Review reported in 1997.

Today, President Trump’s verbal attacks against four congresswomen of color—raising the old anti-immigrant trope of “go back” to where they came from—boosted Trump’s favorability by 5 percentage points among Republicans, a Reuters poll found, but that remark saw his support drop among independents and Democrats.

“Among independents, about three out of 10 said they approved of Trump, down from four out of 10 a week ago,” the Reuters poll said. “His net approval—the percentage who approve minus the percentage who disapprove—dropped by 2 points among Democrats.”

Other recent polls found that record numbers of voters are saying that immigration is the top issue facing the country—“the highest Gallup has ever measured for the issue since it first began recording mentions of immigration in 1993.”

But, crucially, that was only 23 percent of those polled by Gallup. “Americans still view immigration positively in general, with 76 percent describing it as a good thing for the country today and 19 percent as a bad thing,” its report on a mid-June poll said. A July report by the Pew Research Center noted that the number of “unauthorized immigrants” had fallen by 14 percent in the past dozen years (from 12.2 million to 10.5 million)

President Trump’s immigration stances are notably less tolerant than those taken by his Republican predecessor—Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush. While the core of the GOP base today is embracing Trump’s virulent politics, it is also true that his race-based fulminations and cruel border enforcement are alienating independents and Democrats previously supporting him.

Trump’s dominance of the GOP may be growing. But the GOP is increasingly representing a shrinking share of the electorate. There is no room in Trump’s GOP for the immigration policies of Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush, which, ironically turns one of Reagan’s most famous quotes upside down.

“I didn’t leave the Democratic Party, the Democratic Party left me,” the conservative icon famously said. On immigration, Reagan—and Bush—are back with the Democrats.

Steven Rosenfeld is the editor and chief correspondent of Voting Booth, a project of the Independent Media Institute. He has reported for National Public Radio, Marketplace, and Christian Science Monitor Radio, as well as a wide range of progressive publications including Salon, AlterNet, the American Prospect, and many others.

This article was produced by the Independent Media Institute.

Hearing The President Speak

In Marine Corps boot camp at Parris Island, as a humble private, I was taught that at the very top of the chain of command stood the president of the United States, who was then Dwight D. Eisenhower. As supreme commander of the Allied forces in Europe, Gen. Eisenhower had made the fateful decision on June 6, 1944, to send 159,000 Allied troops onto the beaches of Normandy to liberate Western Europe from the Nazis’ iron grip.

In anticipation of personally accepting the responsibility for the very possible failure of that historic invasion, Eisenhower, in his own hand, wrote this speech he never had to give: “Our landings in the Cherbourg-Havre area have failed to gain a satisfactory foothold and I have withdrawn the troops. My decision to attack at this time and place was based upon the best information available. The troops, the air and the Navy did all that bravery and devotion to duty could do. If any blame or fault attaches to the attempt it is mine alone.

A president takes responsibility.

The second commander in chief under whom I served was John F. Kennedy, who, as a Navy lieutenant, had his patrol torpedo boat (PT-109) sliced in two when rammed by a Japanese destroyer. The incident left 11 U.S. crewmen floundering in the Pacific. For his exhausting efforts to save his crew, Kennedy was awarded the Navy and Marine Corps Medal. Much later, as a presidential candidate, Kennedy was asked by a youngster how he became a war hero, to which he responded: “It was involuntary. They sank my boat.” After the failed U.S.-organized Bay of Pigs invasion by Cuban exiles of Fidel Castro’s Cuba, then-President Kennedy accepted that the buck stopped with him. “Victory has 100 fathers, and defeat is an orphan,” he said, adding, “I’m the responsible officer of the government.”

Acknowledging that he had been less than completely candid with Americans in the Iran-Contra scandal, President Ronald Reagan corrected the record: “A few months ago, I told the American people I did not trade arms for hostages. My heart and my best intentions still tell me that’s true, but the facts and the evidence tell me it is not.” The Gipper won public admiration for shouldering the blame.

Contrast this with the conduct and words of the incumbent commander in chief, who said of a Republican colleague who suffered two broken arms and one broken leg and then a beating by his “rescuers” after his U.S. Navy plane was shot down over Hanoi in 1967 and endured 5 1/2 years of torture as a prisoner of war there before being freed: “He’s not a war hero. He’s a war hero because he was captured. I like people that weren’t captured.”

The polar opposite of Ike, JFK and Reagan, Donald Trump blames the wounded and now departed American hero John McCain. Let me tell you as a childhood survivor of both scarlet fever and rheumatic fever, which left me with a heart murmur, that the pre-induction military physical for those of us facing the draft call was not sophisticated medicine. Basically, if you could see lightning and hear thunder, you passed your U.S. military physical. Of course, there was the rare prep-school type who showed up in his camel hair jacket with a stack of affidavits from his allergist, his psychologist or even occasionally his foot doctor explaining why military life would not work out for Trip or Chip or Donnie. I prefer my presidents and leaders to take responsibility and not be the rare misfit who instead takes a powder.

To find out more about Mark Shields and read his past columns, visit the Creators Syndicate webpage at

IMAGE: Dwight D. Eisenhower, 34th president of the United States and former supreme commander of Allied Expeditionary Forces in Europe during World War II. 

Interview: Historian Rick Perlstein On The Conservative Roots Of Trumpism

This interview with historian and author Rick Perlstein originally appeared in the Berlin daily Neues Deutschland

After Trump won the election you published an essay titled “I Thought I Understood the American Right. Trump Proved Me Wrong.” How did Trump’s election change your view of American conservatism?

The conservatives’ own story about their evolution has been that there were two streams of conservative political activity in the US: one that was extremist and conspiratorial, often viciously racist and even violent. And then there was a mainstream movement that policed those boundaries, associated with the figure of William F. Buckley and the magazine National Review. That mainstream conservatism, as the story goes, had largely prevailed, and the extremist elements were pretty much vestigial. What Trump demonstrates is that those much more feral streams in the movement never really went away. Knowing about Trump, it was a lot easier to see in retrospect how often that extremist underbrush was part of the story.

Is Trump even a conservative in the traditional sense? The National Review published an issue during the 2016 primaries titled “Against Trump,” in which various conservative intellectuals stated that a true conservative could not support Trump, because he violated conservative principles.

Yes, but if you look at the National Review website in the years before that, pretty much everything nasty and politically grotesque that we associate with Trump could be seen in National Review, too.

But weren’t there also actual policy disagreements, regarding the economy or trade for example? Did Trump in that sense violate the principles of US conservatism?

The problem with that idea is that if you survey self-described conservatives, about 90 percent identify with Trump. So you have to question the conservatives’ own story about what was at the heart of their movement. Conservatism, in the basic sense of valuing authority and hierarchy over equality and fluidity, has taken different forms in different times and different places. In the US in the 1920s, the strongest conservative force was the Ku Klux Klan; they ran some states. I saw KKK pamphlets from that time that supported universal government-provided healthcare — because of the fear that dirty immigrants would bring disease with them. The precise policy formulae that conservatism has exhibited over time have to be analytically subordinated to the bottom line: That they are the forces of order, hierarchy, and frankly, the strong leader.

You have used the term “Herrenvolk Democracy” to describe this kind of right-wing social populism.

Yes, but Trump seems to have largely abandoned that by now. Herrenvolk democracy would have been, if he had spent a lot of money on infrastructure, which he promised to do, and provided blue-collar construction jobs; if he had worked to shore up programs that serve mostly middle-class and elderly people, like Social Security or Medicare. But instead he has gone with the more traditional right-wing laissez-faire economic program.

Tucker Carlson of Fox News, one of the most vocal supporters of the President, has recently aired a segment which was very critical of neoliberal capitalism, which he said destroyed families and the social fabric of the country.

Tucker Carlson is a proponent of “herrenvolk democracy”. This has always been a tradition in American conservatism, but very minoritarian. You would never see this kind of thing on Fox News until now. But American right-wing populism has always seen the white middle class in kind of a pincer movement between the rich liberal elites from above, and the rent-seeking, parasitic poor from below.

Steve Bannon often speaks of the Davos Class.

The form that this “herrenvolk democracy” takes seems to be a dog-whistle for anti-Semitism: the idea that unseen, mysterious moneylenders and financial elites are determining the fate of ordinary Americans.

As you said, the actual practice of the Trump administration is not much different than how a traditional Republican would have governed. Traditional, more libertarian Republicans like Paul Ryan found a lot of common ground with Trump, regarding tax cuts, cuts to welfare programs, or gutting environmental protection.

Yes, but there are important differences, too. Ronald Reagan, for example, was actually quite reverent about the idea of immigration to the United States. He was very sentimental about it, he loved the idea of people wanting to come tot he US. That was a central form that his patriotism took.

But mobilizing white racial resentment has always been central to US conservatism, such as Richard Nixon’s “Southern Strategy.”  Is this racial politics under Trump more central to the GOP, or is it just different, or more honest and open?

It’s more central and it’s more open. Historically, elite conservative politicians did a much more careful job of stoking racial resentment without actually using the language of racial resentment. There is a civil religion in America that includes equality and a rejection of ethnic particularism. You see this in figures like Reagan and Newt Gingrich and generations of conservative politicians. And then you see Donald Trump, starting his campaign in Trump Tower by saying that Mexico is sending us their rapists. He ripped off that skin of civility and was perfectly willing to show the ugliness that other people were careful to hide.

After the election, there was lots of talk about how Trump was very successful with the “white working class,” which maybe hadn’t been voting Republican before. Do you think that the social base of Trump is different than the one that elected George W. Bush or Reagan?

That’s been exaggerated a bit. He got plenty of support from richer white suburban Republican voters as well, even though that is the most vulnerable part of his support. But he did receive an enormous emotional affection from this white working class in the areas of the country that were ruined by neoliberalism. Ronald Reagan had a lot of affection in those areas, too, where his voters were called “Reagan Democrats”: unionized workers who were doing very poorly in the international economy in the late 70s. So it’s an acceleration of a trend that’s been going on for a long time.

In Nixonland, you describe how Nixon in the 1960s engineered a realignment by using racial and culture war issues to split the Democratic voter coalition and create this new social base, on which the power of conservatism rested in the next decades. Is this still the basic split in the population?

Yes, it’s still indispensable to understand our time. In fact, I have a placard from a Donald Trump rally I went to that said: “Donald Trump Stands with the Silent Majority,” which of course was the central slogan that Nixon used back then. And Trump used the same slogan as Nixon did in 1968 in his acceptance speech: “Law and Order.” Donald Trump came out of that world, the early 1970s.

The way you describe Richard Nixon’s emotional appeal seems very similar to Trump today, how he presented himself as the advocate of the common man against the arrogant liberal elites.
To quote Nixon’s vice-president Spiro Agnew, “an effete corps of impudent snobs.” He was talking about the press, but the idea is that people who are more liberal are part of this Davos Class of international ruthless snobs who look down on everyone else.

 One central concept in this regard is resentment.

Resentment is contempt mixed with envy. And even though Trump is a very wealthy man, his habits of mind are very status conscious. He constantly talks about how he went to an Ivy League school, because he felt condescension by the intellectual class that also went to Ivy League schools. Trump went to a college that was very much on the lower rung of the Ivy League. This game started with Richard Nixon. This kind of class politics is very surreal, because Trump wraps himself in all this refinement, but it’s been said that Donald Trump is a poor person’s idea of what a rich person looks like. His aesthetic is very much a brutish, arriviste flaunting of wealth.

And very vulgar too, like when he ordered cheeseburgers for his guests in the White House. It’s almost like he is doing it on purpose, to provoke the liberal condescension.

That was a call back to Michelle Obama, who had a vegetable garden in the White House, and made her big public issue healthy food for children. You see Republicans rebelling against this idea, as in “eating what you want to eat is what a real American does.” While Obama was eating all this fancy food that no one knows how to pronounce. It’s very much part of the class template of American politics, and Donald Trump is playing it to the hilt.

Very few Republicans still criticize the president, Mitt Romney for example. Did Trump take over the Republican Party, or is there any chance that it could revert back to more traditional, less populist styles?

No, these people have no popular constituency. They have a lot of articulate spokesmen, but no bodies on the ground.

Rick Perlstein is the author of the New York Times bestsellers The Invisible Bridge: The Fall of Nixon and the Rise of Reagan and Nixonland:The Rise of a President and the Fracturing of America, and Before the Storm: Barry Goldwater and the Unmaking of the American Consensus, which won the 2001 Los Angeles Times Book Award for history. 


#EndorseThis: Jimmy Fallon Writes Slogans For Trump 2020, Sanders ’18

No serious candidate relies on slogans and copy written by one person. In the case of 2016, it’s ironic that Hillary Clinton was criticized for having teams of writers review short phrases. At least Clinton’s team didn’t steal Ronald Reagan’s idea and spin the plagiarized words into a racial dog-whistle.

Which brings us to today’s clip. With President Trump having (almost) formally announced a bid for reelection, host Jimmy Fallon of The Tonight Show offers a few thoughts on branding the next Trump campaign more effectively.

Despite working alone, he’s got a winner! In fact, Fallon may have just discovered the only possible effective slogan for Trump in the 2020 election. And he’s got a good bead on what the next Trump cabinet would look like.

Watch to the end for Jimmy’s much-gentler poke at the Bernie Sanders clan.