Donald Trump, the least self-aware person in the country, at least seems to know that he’s a terrible debater. He has the vocabulary of a kindergartener, strings words together in combinations that aren’t recognizable as English and has absolutely no idea what he’s talking about most of the time. His sole objective when he begins a sentence is to get to the end of the sentence.
So why did he crush all the debate insta-polls in 2016?
First of all, Jeb! needed a billion more exclamation points. But more important, Trump had something no other candidate had: He took the popular position on immigration.
You forget this now because — post Trump — nearly all Republicans pretend to take America’s side on immigration. Even Trump pretends to take America’s side! (Luckily, he didn’t keep any of his immigration promises, so he’s free to reissue them.)
Even Mr. Open Borders, Gov. Chris Christie, who gave in-state tuition to illegals and directed his Senate appointee, Jeff Chiesa, to vote for amnesty, now resignedly says of Trump’s nonexistent wall: “Look, at this point, I think we’ve started to build it; let’s finish it.”
Until Trump’s 2016 campaign, the standard Republican mantra on immigration required these four points and no others:
1. Cite your immigrant relatives.
TED CRUZ: “I am the son of an Irish-Italian mom and a Cuban immigrant dad.” (And a feral badger.)
MARCO RUBIO: “My family’s immigrants. My neighbors are all immigrants. My in-laws are all immigrants.”
2. Claim you will “secure the border.”
SCOTT WALKER: “I believe we need to secure the border. I’ve been to the border!”
CHRIS CHRISTIE: “What we need to do is to secure our border.”
3. Say walls don’t work.
JEB BUSH: “To build a wall, and to deport people … it would destroy community life, it would tear families apart.”
RUBIO: “I also believe we need a fence. The problem is if El Chapo builds a tunnel under the fence …”
4. Propose a bunch of B.S. solutions that definitely won’t work.
CARLY FIORINA: “Look, we know what it takes to secure a border. We’ve heard a lot of great ideas here: money, manpower, technology …”
CHRISTIE: “We need to use electronics, we need to use drones, we need to use FBI, DEA and ATF …”
What would any of those accomplish, exactly? These politicians say a wall is cruel, but they’re going to direct troops to shoot illegals? Have the drones drop bombs them? Will we use “electronics” to amuse ourselves with videos of illegals as they pour across our border?
The media try to dismiss Gov. Ron DeSantis as another Scott Walker, but I distinctly recall breaking things during Walker’s presidential announcement because he didn’t say one word about immigration. (On the other hand, he did propose a slew of new military interventions!)
Jeb!’s presidential announcement also had nothing about immigration (unless you include a boring digression about his wife being Mexican). A year earlier, he’d said on Fox News that illegal immigrants had not committed a felony, but “an act of love.” (The roar of applause from The Wall Street Journal could be heard for miles.)
Rubio only glancingly mentioned immigration in his announcement, buried in a list of other needed reforms. His main point was that “Cuban exiles … former slaves and refugees … together built the freest and most prosperous nation ever!” (What British and Dutch settlers? Never heard of ’em.)
This was a striking omission inasmuch as Rubio had won his Senate race vowing never to support amnesty, then spent his first two years in office pushing amnesty, which won him a pat on the head from Fox magnate Rupert Murdoch. Fox News rewarded him at the first GOP debate in 2015 by not asking him a single question about immigration, despite this massive betrayal.
After the debate, Murdoch tweeted: “Bush [and] others did well, perhaps Rubio best of all,” while Trump spoke “nonsense” on immigration.
As you will recall, Jeb! dropped out after the second primary, having won only four more delegates than I did; Rubio lost his own state, and Trump went on to win more primary votes than any Republican in history. (Totally upsetting my worldview. If an Australian billionaire doesn’t have his finger on the pulse of the American voter, nothing makes sense anymore — up is down, cold is hot, liquid is solid, black is white …)
The crucial point is Trump wasn’t a dazzling debater — the man can barely talk. His ace in the hole was to take America’s side on immigration — something voters had been politely requesting for 50 years. He said he’d build a wall, end anchor babies, deport all illegals and on and on.
His immigration positions were steroids in a race where all his competitors had vowed to be steroid-free. And then, like every other politician who’s ever promised to “secure the border,” Trump betrayed us. Now, he’s just another lying politician.
I guess we’re about to find out which of the current candidates are smart enough to take the steroids this time.
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