While the 2020 election result is not yet final due to pending litigation and recounts, most signs point to an eventual defeat for President Donald Trump.
If he is defeated, then many things likely contributed to the president’s 2020 loss. But one thing is clear: his views on immigration along with the very policies his administration implemented have nothing to do with it.
In fact, his immigration stance and accomplishments attracted new voters to the Republican Party. If the GOP is going to build on his success in a post-Trump political universe, they must embrace his vision of lowering overall immigration levels and aggressively enforcing existing immigration laws.
New exit polling from the Federation for American Immigration Reform (FAIR) shows definitively that a majority of voters support President Trump’s immigration stances. The poll found that a super majority of Republicans, 76 percent, along with a majority of both Democrats and Independents support long-term reductions in immigration. White and Hispanic voters strongly echoed this sentiment, as did working age Americans ranging in ages from 18 to 69.
There was also strong support for the Trump administration’s immigration restrictions related to COVID-19. A super majority of all voters – nearly 83 percent – agree that limiting cross-border traffic and the admission of international travelers is key to slowing the spread of COVID-19.
This election was unique in that voters seemingly rebuked Trump, but not his party. Indeed, Republicans gained seats in the House of Representatives and beat back well-funded Democratic opponents in the Senate. For months, the mainstream media all but guaranteed a second Blue Wave that would greatly expand the gains that Democrats made in the 2018 midterms and ensure the passage of mass amnesty bills in early 2021. Instead, Republicans exceeded expectations and gained ground in Congress, despite losing the presidency.
Now, the GOP faces a reckoning with Trump’s seemingly inevitable defeat. Did voters reject Trump because of his policies, or because of his personality? Should the GOP revert back to the party of McCain, Romney and Bush, or does it make sense to evolve into something new?
Donald Trump is a unique politician who ran on a unique platform in both 2016 and 2020. It was unique because it was vastly different from the typical Republican platform. His opponents ran on the same issues that John McCain and Mitt Romney did in 2008 and 2012: tax cuts, nominal nods to social conservatives and promises to cut spending. This excited Wall Street and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, but hardly excited a Republican base that was seething with anger after eight years of President Barack Obama.
Donald Trump upended the race with his electrifying rhetoric that went against many Republican principles. Instead of endorsing unlimited free trade, Trump railed against trade deals that destroyed American jobs and promised to force American companies to bring their manufacturing back to the United States. Trump promised to raise tariffs, hardly a traditional Republican position, and criticized the historic GOP support of military adventurism and intervention.
But by far, his biggest promise was to crack down on illegal immigration and lower our country’s annual levels of immigration. This completely contradicted the GOP’s 2012 post-election autopsy which argued that the party would have to embrace a soft stance on immigration in order to attract Hispanic and other minority voters. What was the only way to do that, in their eyes? Pass a mass amnesty. Donald Trump, instead, argued that we should deport illegal aliens, crack down on sanctuary cities, ban immigration from state sponsors of terrorism and build a wall on the southern border with Mexico.
Which message won? Clearly Trump’s. He won the 2016 election by flipping voters in key Rust Belt states who felt that globalization and immigration had destroyed their communities. In 2020, he won more minority votes than any GOP candidate in history – showing that minority voters are not a monolith and that immigration enforcement is not a turn off for wide sections of the electorate. FAIR’s exit polling further confirms this fact.
The 2020 election was a referendum on Trump’s personality and more specifically on his handling of the COVID-19 pandemic and crisis. Yet the Republican establishment will argue that the party should return to the pre-2016 platform. This would be a critical mistake and should be dismissed as political malpractice. Trump single-handedly moved the GOP from the party of country club snobs to one that speaks to rural and blue-collar Americans. As the Democratic Party increasingly becomes the party of cosmopolitan coastal elites, Americans will look to an alternative.
Trump’s brand of Republicanism offers that alternative. Strong immigration controls defend blue collar workers from competition for work and wages. Aggressively reforming misguided guestworker schemes like the H-1B program protects the wages of American STEM workers and college graduates.
Regardless of this election’s final result, Republicans are in a great position to take back the House, retain control of the Senate, and grow their base leading up to 2024. The right candidate – perhaps without Trump’s polarizing personality and demeanor – can take Trump’s “America First” message and grow it. On immigration specifically, it is abundantly clear that is what voters want. Will party leadership, talking heads, and lawmakers listen? We’ll see.
Preston Huennekens is a Government Relations Associate at the Federation for American Immigration Reform (FAIR).