It is not enough to prosecute, incarcerate and deport undocumented immigrants anymore. Now there is a proposal to apply the death penalty to people who returned to the U.S. after being deported and convicted of a felony. The Republican Party did the right thing when they hastily distanced themselves from Iowa State Senator Mark Chelgren, who is running for a seat at the House of Representatives. The problem for the GOP is how to distance itself from an electorate who supports racist, authoritarian and borderline-fascist positions when they need them to win the election.
Welcome to Donald Trump’s political cycle.
Chelgren’s proposal on immigration would seem brutal and unthinkable if it weren’t for the universe created in recent years by anti-immigrant rhetoric, in which young “Dreamers” graduating from college are in the same category as undesirables. The candidate’s message is calibrated and in line with Trump and Ted Cruz’s, who do all they can to exploit a latent resentment that finds release in blaming immigrants for all evil.
Trump does it in his rallies, while Cruz has taken such rhetoric to the Senate, as he did a few days ago during a hearing on immigration. The reply ICE Director Sarah Saldaña gave Cruz ‒“Are you seriously asking this question?” ‒ speaks of the tone and wordplay used by the politician during the session to promote his candidacy.
Cruz’s incendiary anti-immigrant message ‒ just like Trump’s, who uses detailed descriptions of rapes and murders perpetrated by undocumented people, ‒ appeals to the frustration of a white, poorly-educated sector who feels excluded from a technological, globalized world that has denied them the opportunities their parents had. Demagogues would rather stir up this electorate by blaming minorities and immigrants than talk about a changing world. Trump’s popularity has proven that there are no limits to hatred and resentment among this political base.
That is a serious problem for the Republican Party, and one that goes far beyond a candidate’s message, whether it’s Trump or Chelgren. Eventually, this could mark the future of the group as the representative of either modern conservatism or of resentful populism with fascist tendencies.
They will have to choose a path at this crossroads, as they cannot follow both at the same time.