Smart. Sharp. Funny. Fearless.

Monday, December 09, 2019 {{ new Date().getDay() }}

You can count on Donald Trump to spark a conversation. Not necessarily an intelligent one, but a conversation. His provocatively offensive anti-Mexican comments have energized a significant segment of the Republican right wing. Some polls now put Trump ahead of other contenders for the party’s presidential nomination.

Everyone says these insults hurled at the growing Latino electorate will harm Republicans. Everyone is correct.

Trump can be expected to mar the upcoming Republican candidate debates with new incendiary remarks about immigrants. That will leave those sharing the stage a choice. They can make common cause with Trump and offend a large part of the general electorate. Or they can swat him down and displease the slice that calls the shots in many Republican primaries and caucuses.

Treated with derision, Trump could run as a third-party candidate, draining support from the eventual Republican nominee. Asked on CNN whether he’d consider a third-party candidacy, Trump said, “If I do the third-party thing, it would be, I think, very bad for the Republicans.” He added, “Everyone asks me to do it.”

That’s not a “no.”

Republican leaders have mainly themselves to blame. By rejecting a sensible plan to deal with illegal immigration — which is, yes, a problem — they have let the issue rot into a moldy piñata for the far right. The comprehensive plan for immigration reform was a solution for Republicans, nicely tied with a bow. It passed in the Senate, and the Republican National Committee called for its passage after the most recent general election.

The comprehensive plan would do two things. It would mandate a computerized system for serious enforcement of the immigration laws. And it would normalize the status of people who are here illegally because of lax enforcement in the past.

Americans have a right to an orderly and lawful immigration program. The lack of one has helped harden the lives of natives and documented immigrants with only a high-school diploma or less. Honest labor economists have noted this fact, an expected outcome of forcing lower-skilled workers to compete with millions of undocumented foreigners accepting substandard pay and working conditions.

That doesn’t make these people working here illegally bad folks. Trump is cracked in saying that Mexico sends its worst people. On the contrary, Mexico has been sending us its best — those fired with ambition and a desire for work. (If American authorities fail to expel criminal foreigners, even after multiple convictions, America’s to blame.)

For this reason, the migration has been Mexico’s loss. Mexico has not only exported superior workers but also lost those most likely to push for political reform. Some Mexican labor activists have noted this, arguing that mass emigration north has weakened their cause.

Low birthrates, a stronger Mexican economy, and improved enforcement of the current law have sharply curbed the flow of undocumented workers from Mexico. Illegal immigration will soon become not a thorn in U.S.-Mexican relations but a common concern.

What better time to put order into the American immigration program. Foes of comprehensive reform should cut the looping tape about “those people” having broken laws in taking jobs here. These laws were held in contempt by American political and business interests at their highest levels. The new plan would restore respect. It would grow new teeth on enforcement while recognizing that many undocumented foreigners have become rooted in their American communities.

By removing immigration from the power-boil burner, Republicans would oblige their Donald Trumps to look elsewhere for inflammatory remarks. Publicity hounds will no doubt find replacements, but GOP leaders can hope the next wave of vile quotes will be of less consequence to them and the nation.

Follow Froma Harrop on Twitter @FromaHarrop. She can be reached at fharrop@gmail.com. To find out more about Froma Harrop and read features by other Creators writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Web page at www.creators.com.

Photo by expertinfantry/ CC BY 2.0

At this moment, the president of the United States is threatening to "throw out" the votes of millions of Americans to hijack an election that he seems more than likely to lose. Donald Trump is openly demanding that state authorities invalidate lawful absentee ballots, no different from the primary ballot he mailed to his new home state of Florida, for the sole purpose of cheating. And his undemocratic scheme appears to enjoy at least nominal support from the Supreme Court, which may be called upon to adjudicate the matter.

But what is even worse than Trump's coup plot — and the apparent assent of unprincipled jurists such as Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh — is the Democratic Party's feeble response to this historic outrage. It is the kind of issue that Republicans, with their well-earned reputation for political hardball, would know how to exploit fully and furiously.

They know because they won the same game in Florida 20 years ago.

During that ultimate legal showdown between George W. Bush and Al Gore, when every single vote mattered, a Democratic lawyer argued in a memorandum to the Gore team that the validity of absentee ballots arriving after Election Day should be challenged. He had the law on his side in that particular instance — but not the politics.

As soon as the Republicans got hold of that memo, they realized that it was explosive. Why? Many of the late ballots the Democrats aimed to invalidate in Florida had been sent by military voters, and the idea of discarding the votes of service personnel was repellent to all Americans. Former Secretary of State James Baker, who was overseeing the Florida recount for Bush, swiftly denounced the Democratic plot against the soldiers, saying: "Here we have ... these brave young men and women serving us overseas. And the postmark on their ballot is one day late. And you're going to deny him the right to vote?"

Never mind the grammar; Baker's message was powerful — and was followed by equally indignant messages in the following days from a parade of prominent Bush backers including retired Gen. Norman Schwarzkopf, the immensely popular commander of U.S. troops in the Desert Storm invasion that drove Saddam Hussein's army out of Kuwait. Fortuitously, Schwarzkopf happened to be on the scene as a resident of Florida.

As Jeffrey Toobin recounted in Too Close to Call, his superb book on the Florida 2000 fiasco, the Democrats had no choice but to retreat. "I would give the benefit of the doubt to ballots coming in from military personnel," conceded then-Sen. Joseph Lieberman, Gore's running mate, during a defensive appearance on Meet the Press. But Toobin says Gore soon realized that to reject military ballots would render him unable to serve as commander in chief — and that it would be morally wrong.

Fast-forward to 2020, when many of the same figures on the Republican side are now poised to argue that absentee ballots, which will include many thousands of military votes — should not be counted after Election Day, even if they arrived on time. Among those Republicans is Justice Kavanaugh, who made the opposite argument as a young lawyer working for Bush in Florida 20 years ago. Nobody expects legal consistency or democratic morality from a hack like him, but someone should force him and his Republican colleagues to own this moment of shame.

Who can do that? Joe Biden's campaign and the Democratic Party ought to be exposing the Republican assault on military ballots — and, by the same token, every legally valid absentee ballot — every day. But the Democrats notoriously lack the killer instinct of their partisan rivals, even at a moment of existential crisis like this one.

No, this is clearly a job for the ex-Republicans of the Lincoln Project, who certainly recall what happened in Florida in 2000. They have the attitude and aptitude of political assassins. They surely know how to raise hell over an issue like military votes — and now is the time to exercise those aggressive skills in defense of democracy.

To find out more about Joe Conason and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate website at www.creators.com.