... one after another, [the other Republican presidential candidates have] been asked about Trump and (with the exception of Ted Cruz) have condemned his remarks. And while some just expressed their disagreement briefly, others have taken the opportunity to present a more inclusive face of the GOP. "Hispanics in America and Hispanics in Texas, from the Alamo to Afghanistan, have been extraordinary people, citizens of our country and of our state," said Rick Perry on ABC's "This Week." Mike Huckabee called immigrants from south of our border "some of the most conservative, family-oriented and faith-based people I have ever witnessed." "Politically, we're going to win when we're hopeful and optimistic and big and broad rather than errrrr, grrrr, just angry all the time," said Jeb Bush....And as Ed Kilgore adds, they can do this without changing their positions on immigration a bit:
Think about it this way: Trump's remarks were so vulgar that any candidate who wants to look like a reasonable person has little choice but to reject them. And if they all do it (or almost all), then at least for a while they've sidestepped what many of us expected to see during the primaries: a competition for who could talk the toughest on immigration. If they can maintain that mutual agreement to be as far from Trump as possible on the issue, then they might not dig themselves as big a hole as Mitt Romney and John McCain did with Hispanic voters.
... Trump has also made it easy for candidates whose objective positions on immigration policy are quasi-nativist to seem “moderate” so long as they aren’t blaming immigrants for half the country’s problems. Indeed, the “premature pivot” on immigration Waldman is talking about could preempt a more meaningful pivot that transcends mere rhetoric about the moral qualities of Latinos and the overall impact of legal and illegal immigration on American society.Both Waldman and Kilgore question whether Hispanic voters will welcome the more tolerant rhetoric if there isn't a policy shift to go along with it. I think Hispanics do pay close attention to candidates' immigration policies, not merely their pronouncements -- they'll know who's faking a change of heart. But I wonder whether moderate voters who aren't Hispanic will hear the softer rhetoric and give the GOP, apart from Trump and Cruz, undeserved credit for reasonableness. If that's the case, Trump might be making the rest of the field look good by comparison.
On the other hand, it's possible that soothing words about Hispanics and immigrants will alienate the GOP base. Maybe we'll see Cruz start to rise in the polls as well as Trump. Or maybe we'll hear Scott Walker and Rick Santorum talk more about their desire to curb legal immigration, just to pick up some of that rage vote.
And who knows whether this will be the general election in which a minor-party candidate picks up conservative voters alienated by the GOP, the way Ralph Nader won liberals skeptical of Al Gore in 2000. A party that's now speaking well of Hispanics (even undocumented Hispanics) and not defending the Confederate flag and not actively resisting same-sex marriage really might lose a few votes come November 2016. We'll see.