The 2016 GOP Primary has seen its candidates trying to one-up each other on proving their hardline-on-immigration bona fides. Donald Trump wants to deport everyone; Jeb Bush made some confusing remarks about Asians; Scott Walker suggested building a wall along the Canadian border; and so on.
From the absurd to the virulent, anti-immigrant rhetoric has so far ruled the day. However, it wasn't so long ago that two conservative icons struck a far different tone, speaking about America's relationship to Mexico and its citizens with compassion. From a 1980 Republican primary debate:
As the debate was winding down, an audience member approached the microphone and asked George H.W. Bush and Ronald Reagan whether children in Texas whose parents are "illegal aliens" should be allowed to attend Texas public schools for free, or if the parents should pay money for their children who are citizens to receive the same education other citizens receive.
Both men's responses were quite measured. I mean, if this is the Reagan that today's GOP contenders want to emulate…
Let's go to the tape.
Bush Senior says we as a nation must solve a problem like that with humanity and think about the country's "labor needs":
"We're creating a whole society of really honorable, decent, family-loving people that are in violation of the law."
Bush then points out that taking a hardline stance on the issue will not help the country's relationship with Mexico, and closes by saying that the issue is much bigger and more complex, "more fundamental" than whether or not "they attend Houston schools."
"These are good people, strong people. Part of my family is a Mexican."
Reagan, too, speaks with a compassion that would seem out of place in today's Republican primary. He begins by saying the United States should have better relations with its neighbors, "particularly its neighbor to the south," than it's ever had in its history. "We haven't been sensitive enough to our size and our power," he continues.
Reagan suggests that we help people escape the horrible working conditions, or lack thereof, in other countries—like the country was doing by accepting Cuban refugees during the Mariel boatlift. He goes on to say that the sort of economic problems Mexico is facing are the conditions that could make a country ripe for upheaval, or even a military coup.
This is all a lead up to Reagan basically saying that a border wall is an astonishingly bad idea.
"Rather than making them, or talking about putting up a fence, why don't we work out some recognition of our mutual problems, make it possible for them to come legally with a work permit, and then while they're working, and earning here, they pay taxes here?"
"And when they want to go back, they can go back, and they can cross—and open the border both ways."
Donald Trump is currently outpacing everyone in the Republican race. His number one talking point is a southern border wall and how he will treat people, including people born here, as enemies; many of his opponents have similar ideas.
In this instance, at least, it does not appear that this is the Party of Reagan.
David Matthews operates the Wayback Machine on Fusion.net—hop on. Got a tip? Email him: firstname.lastname@example.org