Only Donald Trump could get everyone talking about the arcane intricacies of the 14th Amendment.
After Trump announced his intention to review birthright citizenship to curtail the “anchor baby” problem, a fiery debate has erupted as to whether it was both morally and constitutionally right to do such a thing.
Considering The Donald’s involvement, it’s no surprise some of the most vociferous arguments against the billionaire populist’s proposal have come from the right.
The Federalist’s Robert Tracinski declared that there is “nothing more conservative than birthright citizenship.” The desire to eliminate it is thoroughly “un-conservative,” in Tracinski’s opinion, and would be a gross violation of the Constitution if enacted.
John Yoo, former Bush administration Department of Justice lawyer and the man who authored the legal justification for enhanced interrogation, argued in National Review that eliminating citizenship for the children of illegals would undermine the very nature of the Constitution. Employing conservative-friendly “living Constitution vs. Constitution’s text” rhetoric, Yoo makes the case for why the 14th Amendment is just fine the way it is and how only “nativist Democrats” would want to change the fabric of the Constitution.
And this argument comes from the guy who “discovered” justification for enhanced interrogation in our country’s premier legal document.
Tracinski and Yoo aren’t the only voices on the right up in arms over the idea of changing America’s laws overseeing citizenship. The Wall Street Journal, Reason, Commentary, a plentiful number of Fox News personalities and every conservative columnist published by The Washington Post are also incensed by the proposal and attack it as an affront to American values.
Even though the majority of conservative commentators seems to be supporting giving the children of illegal immigrants citizenship, the vast majority of right-leaning voters is not on the same page.
According to a 2011 Rasmussen poll, nearly two-thirds of likely American voters are opposed to giving automatic citizenship to so-called anchor babies. That number included 83 percent of conservatives and 71 percent of self-professed moderates.
It’s no wonder then that several GOP candidates followed up Trump’s announcement with their own promises to reform America’s citizenship laws — with the notable exceptions of Jeb Bush and Marco Rubio. But why then is there such a major disconnect between the conservative establishment and its followers on this issue?
Because, as The Donald’s strong poll numbers are also showcasing, the two sides may be motivated by different principles. On the conservative establishment side are those who stand for the traditional precepts of classical liberalism above all else; on the grassroots side are those who stand for “America First” above all else.
Ben Domenech made the best analysis of this divide in his widely shared Federalist essay, “Are Republicans For Freedom Or White Identity Politics?” While the title should give away which side Domenech places himself on, the commentator says the party is being torn apart by these diverging ideologies.
The Federalist publisher claims the GOP has always been the party of classical liberalism, but that the passions unleashed by Trump and his supporters represents a dangerous threat to that Republican heritage. It also pushes the party in line with trends in Europe — a continent that no longer has serious old-school liberal parties anymore, while having plenty of successful nationalist fronts.
As Domenech notes, the rise of these apparently “dangerous” parties is due to the failures of the established political class, which is the same reason why Trump is so popular right now among disaffected American voters.
While the author likes to characterize the present Republican civil war as one between freedom and “white identity politics,” a more accurate way to describe it as classical liberalism versus nationalism.
It’s very possible for both of these political attachments to share the same party roof and for most of its history, the GOP has housed both ideological traits. However, on issues like birthright citizenship, you can see these two persuasions battling it out and ending up with irreconcilable differences.
Wanting to give anchor babies automatic citizenship solely on the basis of a divided Supreme Court decision that concerned the child of legal immigrants strikes many conservative voters as absurd. To them, this attitude values abstract principles over common sense.
It’s also absurd for a movement that prides itself on publicly opposing other Supreme Court decisions to accept a single one from 1898 as an unamendable legal commandment.
But to the right-wing supporters of automatic birth citizenship, that’s an acceptable cost for cherishing classical liberalism.
It’s not surprising that there is so much acrimony between those who show any sympathy for Trump’s candidacy and the many conservative pundits who loathe everything about the mogul. You can see the fighting at any given hour on Twitter.
That animosity and the sense that Trump’s campaign jeopardizes Republican chances in the general elections has prompted a few consultants to call for the “cleansing” of the billionaire’s supporters. Considering he is polling with at least a quarter of Republican support, that call amounts to a wish for electoral suicide.
But even without the attempted purging, the division will still be there if Republican and conservative leaders don’t try to meet their base halfway — particularly on anchor babies.
On an issue that has wide-ranging support among the American public, Republican legislators should respond to the call and resolve the anchor baby problem. If it takes an amendment to fix, so be it.
And contrary to the views of some conservative critics, revising birthright citizenship would not undermine our nation’s founding principles.
Furthermore, support for citizenship reform would go a long way towards mending the fences with alienated conservatives.
But if the establishment would prefer to stick with the interests of illegal immigrants over the interests of their own voters, then they can expect the party’s bloody civil war to escalate into a conflict that could doom the GOP’s future.