Trump’s DHS Purge and the GOP’s Unity on Immigration
“The party is going along with him because it’s not what it was two years ago,” says Tom Davis, a former GOP representative from Northern Virginia and the former chair of the National Republican Congressional Committee. “You’ve had people leave the party and people come in, and it’s all around him. This is not the same Republican Party.”
Trump-style views on immigration and race dominate among both the party’s elected officials and its electoral coalition. While several of Trump’s rivals for the GOP nomination in 2016 questioned the value of his proposed border wall, very few Republicans in Congress now openly oppose it. Even when Trump advanced his wall with an unprecedented step—declaring a national emergency after Congress explicitly refused to provide him funding—just 12 Republicans in the Senate and 13 in the House voted to stop him. Similarly, a significant majority of both House and Senate Republicans last year voted for Trump-supported legislation to impose the largest cuts in legal immigration since the 1920s. (That bill didn’t pass, but on Wednesday, Republican Senators Tom Cotton of Arkansas, David Perdue of Georgia, and Josh Hawley of Missouri reintroduced legislation to cut legal immigration in half.)
Among elected Republicans, opposition to Trump’s immigration policies has “fragmented and collapsed,” says Douglas Rivlin, the communications director for America’s Voice, an immigrant-advocacy group that has typically pursued bipartisan legislative coalitions. “If you think immigrants are welcome in our country, you are not welcome in the Republican Party—that seems to be the bottom line.”
One reason resistance has eroded is that congressional Republicans have largely retreated to the parts of America least touched by immigration, and often least affected by diversity. Democrats already hold 31 of the 40 Senate seats in the 20 states where the foreign-born share of the population is highest. In 2020, Democrats have a strong chance to capture two more of the seats on that list—in Colorado and Arizona—and are pursuing competitive, though more uphill, opportunities in two others, Georgia and Texas. After sweeping losses in diverse suburban and urban districts in November, Republicans now hold fewer than one in five of the House seats where the minority population exceeds the national average, and fewer than one in eight of the seats in districts with more immigrants than average. Those numbers could fall further: The most concentrated grouping of Democratic House targets for 2020 is in Texas, where half a dozen House Republicans survived close races last fall in mostly diverse suburban districts.
All of this means that the voices that might most object to Trump’s direction are no longer in the room when Republicans caucus. “Part of the problem is the members who used to do that, or need to do that, they are not around anymore,” says Davis, who’s now a partner at the Washington, D.C., law firm Holland & Knight. “Most of the members you thought would speak up for this, because of their own political advantage, they are gone.”