Since announcing his presidential bid in June, Donald Trump has managed to chase off $50 million in personal revenue, earn the ire of fellow 2016 hopefuls in both parties, and get into an alleged Twitter beef with an escaped drug lord. And all of this is because he wants—no, needs—to secure the U.S.-Mexico border.
Despite effectively setting his campaign up to implode by calling undocumented immigrants rapists, Trump trumpeted Trump’s work on NBC: “You wouldn’t be hearing about the word immigration if it weren’t for Donald Trump. I brought the whole subject up.” Undeniably, the mogul’s controversial remarks have placed extra attention on the issue for 2016 candidates. But another presidential hopeful has been talking about immigration for years, and Trump is setting the stage for him to look really good.
Rick Perry, who served as Texas governor for fourteen years, has the most direct experience with immigration issues out of anyone in the 2016 cohort. He told Trump as much after the Donald blasted him on Twitter.
Rick Perry failed at the border. Now he is critical of me. He needs a new pair of glasses to see the crimes committed by illegal immigrants.
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) July 5, 2015
Perry issued a video response:
“No one knows the concerns that Americans have about our porous border better than I do,” he said. “You see, as governor for fourteen years of the state with the longest border with Mexico, I know that there can be no national security without border security. I also know that while border security might be Washington’s responsibility, it’s Texas’s problem.”
He went on to detail the specific steps Texas took to secure the border under his leadership, including investing almost a billion dollars and deploying the Texas National Guard to aid in surge operations (which, he was quick to note, was a response to the “unprecedented crisis” created by President Obama’s amnesty policy).
Perry rightly noted that Trump’s remarks make for “good reality TV, but they’re way out of touch with reality.” But The Apprentice star’s baffling campaign also makes for a much-needed foil to Perry’s work on immigration, a delicate subject after his 2012 bid.
At a Florida debate in September 2011, Perry was slammed for signing a 2001 law that granted undocumented students in-state tuition at Texas public universities. Perry was further lambasted by conservatives for his response to the attacks: “If you say that we should not educate children who have come into our state for no other reason than they’ve been brought there by no fault of their own, I don’t think you have a heart.”
That remark played a part in dooming Perry’s first bid. But in the 2016 race, with a GOP front-runner openly floating the idea that Mexico is intentionally sending criminals to the U.S., it’s hard to imagine that such a seemingly, well, reasonable statement would provoke a similar backlash. Sure, Trump might be leading early Republican polls, but he’s angering a voting bloc that’s essential to winning the White House: Hispanics.
Although this constituency has historically been an afterthought in political races, growing populations in 2012 battleground states such as Nevada, Colorado, Virginia, and Florida have prompted candidates to woo Hispanic voters. This is especially important for Republicans, who have traditionally had a hard time securing Hispanic votes.
Marco Rubio, Ted Cruz, and Hispanic-poseur Jeb Bush are widely seen as the GOP’s golden boys in this mission. But, in part thanks to Trump, Perry could be another candidate able to court Hispanic voters. Trump hurled a fireball into Perry’s court. Now it’s time for him to show us what he’s got.
He could start by showing the GOP how he managed to maintain a hard-line border security stance without alienating Hispanic voters, a fine balance that gained him 38 percent of the Hispanic vote in his last bid for governor. Or he could help them understand that calling undocumented immigrants criminals is offensive, as he did in his response to Trump. Perry has consistently offered measured responses about immigration policy, proving that you can both advocate for strengthened borders and remember that you’re talking about human life.
Yes, Trump might have stoked the immigration debate, but he’s not the only one talking about it. And Trump’s thin (read: nonexistent) policy experience is opening the door for veterans like Perry to take charge of the conversation. Somewhere in Perry’s smirking response, there’s an unmistakable undertone of “Thank ya, Donny.”
(Images via AP Photo/Jonathan Bachman)