Some perceptive observers have looked at Donald Trump’s history, and questioned his commitment to the Republican Party. He has been a Democrat and an Independent; he is friendly with the Clintons, and he once considered a third party run for President.
Odd bird that he is, The Donald has perched in the Grand Old Party. and he is gathering a big nest of committed followers, with his call for mass deportation and registering Muslim Americans.
Donald Trump’s call for mass deportation of illegal immigrants and their families envisions a massive government program – he is not satisfied with Mitt Romney’s reliance on the initiative of individuals to self-deport.
The harshness of his rhetoric has drawn condemnation, but building a campaign on fear of immigrants and hostility toward Mexicans is not a new idea for Republicans. Pete Wilson was re-elected Governor of California in 1994 with TV ads that showed Mexicans crossing the border, with a voice-over that said “They just keep coming.”
Nobody talks about Pete Wilson anymore. Few people talk about the California Republican Party, no longer competitive in America’s largest state.
Donald Trump has floated the idea of registering Muslims in a government database. To be fair, he has not committed to the idea. This idea is not new either, but the antecedents are in Europe, not America. Pick your abstraction – government registration of non-Christians, or government registration of Semites – Arabs are, as are Jews. The idea is repulsive, an inheritance from its ugly forebears.
Recently Mr Trump has proposed a temporary ban on Muslims immigrating to America. The idea of a religious test for immigrants has been condemned by Speaker Paul Ryan, Israeli PM Bibi Netanyahu, and others. Obviously unenforceable, it would seem to go against the Constitution’s ban on religious tests.
Such an idea has never been implemented as government policy, but in the 1890s Republican orators raged against “Rum, Romanism and Rebellion” as they sought votes from native born Protestants. When Republicans denounced “Papism” it was not aimed at all Catholics, but at the hordes of Irish who came to the country in the post Civil War period. Other Catholics were welcomed into the Republican Party, including Italian Americans in New York City and wealthy Catholics along the eastern seaboard.
With his recent willingness to entertain the idea of internment camps for Muslims, Donald Trump invokes the legacy of Franklin D. Roosevelt. At the beginning of World War II, President Roosevelt ordered the internment of Japanese residents – many prohibitied from citizenship by the 1923 immigration law and earlier “oriental exclusion” acts – because of fears that they owed loyalty to the Emperor of Japan. This act by a Democrat President was supported by California’s Republican Governor, Earl Warren, but has since been repudiated by a bipartisan majority in Congress, which voted reparations to decendents of the Nisei.
Donald Trump’s proposals to create a totalitarian state to deal with the threat of terrorism, or of people crossing the border to seek paid work, have driven up his poll numbers. Currently, as of mid-December, Trump is polling at 35% of Republican voters. Conservative voters who truly believe in limited government, and Republicans who remember that Ronald Reagan welcomed immigrants and favored peace and trade with the Middle East will need to look to other alternatives in November of 2016.