Donald Trump’s rise to the top of the Republican presidential field is being driven by his tough stance on illegal immigration.
At least, that’s what some want you to believe. Immigration hawks like Mickey Kaus and Ann Coulter, for instance, never miss an opportunity on Twitter to chide those who fail to credit Trump’s immigration stance for his political ascension.
— Ann Coulter (@AnnCoulter) August 24, 2015
"His speech focused heavily on illegal immigration … " This is getting hard to deny! http://t.co/12FdoQFb0e
— Mickey Kaus (@kausmickey) August 22, 2015
Asked for evidence to support his view, Kaus told me in an email, “Isn’t the best evidence that it’s what he’s talked about, it’s what’s been in the headlines, as he’s soared in the horse race polls?”
“And (like welfare reform with Bill Clinton) it seems to be the issue he goes to when he needs a boost (eg Mobile),” he added, referring to Trump’s recent speech in Mobile, Alabama.
Pressed if he had any empirical evidence to back up his position, Kaus, who used to work as a blogger for The Daily Caller, replied, “just because evidence is something you see with your own eyes but doesn’t involve polls and number-crunching does not mean it is not empirical.”
“Trump spoke about immigration,” he went on, presumably referring to Trump’s announcement speech where he said Mexico was sending rapists and drug dealers into the United States. “He soared into first place. This is empirical, observed, not theoretical. It is very powerful evidence of the sort pols pay attention to, I think.”
Kaus is right on at least one point. Many of Trump’s fellow GOP contenders seem to be paying attention and racing to match the billionaire’s tough rhetoric on illegal immigration. (Among other things, Trump has called for an end to birthright citizenship and for the deportation of all the many millions of illegal immigrants residing in the United States.)
But while it’s probably impossible to pinpoint one factor that is responsible for Trump’s rise, most of the evidence suggests his stance on immigration isn’t high on the list.
A Hot Air-TownHall/Survey Monkey poll, for instance, did not find immigration to be a particularly pressing issue for either Republicans or Democrats.
“The big surprise in this result is the relatively low response for immigration, the issue that initially catapulted Trump to the top of the polls,” a Hot Air analysis accompanying the poll’s release read. “Only 7% listed that as their top issue in this group; even among only Republican voters, it only got 8.53% of respondents citing it as the top issue.”
Among Republicans in the poll, the issue placed in importance behind jobs, national security, debt and “other (please specify).”
This comports with a recent Monmouth poll of likely Republican voters in South Carolina released last Tuesday. South Carolina primary voters aren’t known for their liberalism. Yet, taxes and government spending, the economy and national security all ranked as more pressing issues. Abortion and same-sex marriage even topped immigration when respondents were asked what they believed was the most important issue facing the country.
But perhaps most illustrative of the fact immigration is a peripheral issue in Trump’s rise is a Quinnipiac poll released Thursday that asked voters to describe Jeb Bush and Donald Trump with the first word that came to mind. Though 9 of the poll’s 1,563 respondents mentioned immigration as a word that came to mind when they heard the name Jeb Bush — not itself a big number — for Trump, “immigration” did not even meet the 5-mention threshold to be included in the list of words that respondents thought to mention. It’s possible not a single person of the 1,563 polled brought it up.
So if not immigration, what is driving Trump’s success? There are probably several factors, but among the most important seem to be Trump’s brash attitude, his business success and his position as an outsider.
Last week in Virginia, pollster Frank Luntz put together a focus group of current and former Trump supporters.
“They love the Trump swagger and attitude,” Fred Barnes, one of the reporters in attendance, wrote in The Weekly Standard. “Luntz asked what they liked the most, the Trump persona or his policies. Persona got 23 votes, policies six. Shown a video of Trump’s insisting that he would be the greatest president ever, they were untroubled by his boastfulness. Several said Trump was merely displaying his confidence. ‘I like his confidence,’ one woman said, ‘it makes me feel confident.'”
The aforementioned Monmouth poll seems to back this up. When the South Carolina Republicans were asked what was more important in deciding their vote, having the right positions on the issues or the candidate’s experiences and personal qualities, the latter garnered a plurality. The poll also found that 61 percent of respondents wanted a candidate outside of government. Trump led in the poll with 30 percent support — besting his nearest rival, Ben Carson, by 15 percentage points.
Immigration hawks have every incentive to push the idea that Trump’s rise is a result of his tough talk on illegal immigration. But the best evidence so far suggests other factors better explain it.