POLITICS

Immigration Reform's Best GOP 2016 Ally Just Dropped Out Of The Race

We'll miss you, Lindsey Graham.

WASHINGTON -- None of the 13 remaining Republican presidential candidates support comprehensive immigration reform with a path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants, now that Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina has dropped out of the race.

Some of Graham’s policy stances were bold for a GOP presidential candidate, which is perhaps why he never rose above one or two percent in the polls. He frequently criticized businessman Donald Trump for his anti-immigrant rhetoric and went after Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas for his opposition to abortion ban exceptions. He publicly said that climate change is caused by human activity and said he was open to increasing taxes to reduce the national debt. The Republican field is a lot more conservative without the good-humored Graham, who also distinguished himself by being the field's only bachelor

On immigration reform, Graham worked with fellow candidate and Florida Sen. Marco Rubio to pass the so-called “Gang of Eight" bill in 2013, warning his fellow Republicans that they needed to get right with Latino voters if they wanted to have any chances at electoral success in the future. Many Republicans thought so at the time, and the bill passed 68 to 32. Since then, GOP candidates have veered so far right that it's hard to believe a bill that would have allowed undocumented immigrants to earn citizenship passed the Senate only two years ago. Rubio has all but disowned the bill, saying that although he's still open to legal status for undocumented immigrants, he wouldn't support a comprehensive bill like the one he once championed without first enacting stronger border security measures.

Graham, though, stuck to his guns, and his statements on immigration throughout his short presidential run are remarkably similar to what he's said in the past.

The senator has consistently said that the GOP needs to embrace immigration reform in order to win the White House.

“If we don’t pass immigration reform,” Graham said in 2013, “if we don’t get it off the table in a reasonable, practical way, it doesn’t matter who you run in 2016. We’re in a demographic death spiral as a party, and the only way to get back in the good graces with the Hispanic community, in my view, is to pass comprehensive immigration reform. If you don’t do that, it really doesn’t matter who runs in my view.”

Former President George W. Bush got 44 percent of the Hispanic vote in 2004, but Mitt Romney got just 27 percent of the vote in 2012.

“This is an odd formula for the party to adopt, the fastest growing demographic in the country, and we’re losing votes every election,” Graham said on Fox News that same year. “It’s one thing to shoot yourself in the foot -- just don’t reload the gun. I intend not to reload this gun when it comes to Hispanics. I intend to tear this wall down and pass an immigration reform bill that’s an American solution to an American problem.” 

The 2016 GOP field is more conservative following Lindsey Graham's decision to drop out of the presidential race.
The 2016 GOP field is more conservative following Lindsey Graham's decision to drop out of the presidential race.

Graham, who made pragmatic arguments for comprehensive immigration reform in 2013, stuck with the same message this year. 

“Unless there is a baby boom that I don’t see coming, and I’m part of the problem, I’m not married and I don’t have any kids, we better hope we can improve our legal immigration system -- we’re going to need a lot more legal immigration than is in this bill, I wish we could do more,” he said on the Senate floor in June of 2013. “Who’s going to take care of the Baby Boomers when we retire … who’s going to replace the workers in our economy if we don’t have better legal immigration?”

He repeated this argument exactly two years later, in June.

“We're going to be down to two workers for every retiree in the next 20 years,” he explained at the Aspen Ideas Festival. “So when I hear a Republican say, ‘We need to cap legal immigration,’ what world are you looking at?”

Graham was alone among the Republican candidates in another regard too: He was the only one to clearly and consistently condemn Trump for his anti-immigrant, anti-Muslim rhetoric. He said Trump’s plan to deport all undocumented immigrants would “kill the Republican Party,” and is “stupid,” “illegal” and “not practical.”

"I believe Donald Trump is destroying the Republican Party’s chances to win an election that we can’t afford to lose," Graham said earlier this month. "You think you're going to win an election with that kind of garbage?"

The Democratic National Committee was quick to point out that Graham's departure from the GOP field left it a lot more hostile to immigration reform.

“In its 2012 election autopsy, the Republican Party made a big deal about supporting immigration reform and reaching out to Hispanic voters," DNC spokesman Eric Walker said in a statement Monday. "Three years later, the one presidential candidate who has consistently favored comprehensive immigration reform just dropped out of the race after attracting virtually no support.

"At the same time, [Donald Trump] has consistently demonized immigrant communities," Walker continued, "while [Ted Cruz] recently challenged the rest of the field to align with his extreme position of opposing legalization or citizenship for undocumented immigrants. Good job, good effort, GOP.” 

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