Donald Trump was smart enough to avoid saying anything this past weekend that interfered with the media’s focus on Hillary Clinton’s ill-considered denunciation of “half” of her opponent’s supporters as “deplorables” and then her health problem. But he did say one interesting thing when interviewed by Christian Broadcasting Network’s David Brody at the Values Voters Summit in Washington on Friday.
This will be the last election that the Republicans have a chance of winning. You’re going to have people flowing across the border, you’re going to have illegal immigrants coming in and they’re going to be legalized and they’re going to be able to vote and once that all happens you can forget it.
As someone who attended that conference (I spoke on a panel about the threat from Iran), I can tell you Trump wasn’t alone in thinking this way. Gary Bauer, the thoughtful head of the American Values group that organized the event said the same thing in his speech to the conference. Bauer and other Christian conservatives were slow to get behind Trump, but they are now all in on his candidacy largely because they, too, see 2016 in apocalyptic terms. Though he admitted that political organizers frame every election as the most important in history, Bauer thinks it’s actually true this time and cited a recent article in the Claremont Review of Books titled, “The Flight 93 Election.”
That piece by an anonymous author frames the choice facing the American people this year as being analogous to the one faced by the passengers of one of the planes hijacked on 9/11. A Trump presidency is made the moral equivalent of charging the hijackers at the front of the plane: It may end in death since he, like the heroic passengers, may not know how to land the aircraft if the insurgency succeeds, but the Hillary Clinton alternative is not only a guarantee of disaster but also the death of the United States as we know it.
There’s a lot that’s troubling about this analogy, not the least of which is that it is inappropriate to compare Clinton to the al-Qaeda terrorists. But the fear that drives this line of reasoning is real. Bauer echoed Trump when he predicted that a Clinton presidency would accelerate a demographic change in the United States that would result in a country populated by immigrants from places whose cultures venerate government power as opposed to traditional American values that emphasize the rights of the individual. Trump and Bauer see the shift toward a nation that is more Hispanic as demographic destiny that ensures Democratic majorities.
A Clinton victory would be a disaster as it likely means a shift toward a liberal majority on the Supreme Court that threatens religious liberty as well as gun rights. However, the newfound trust of Christian conservatives in Trump’s dubious conservative bona fides still strikes me as a demonstration of their capacity for faith rather than sound reasoning. The choice of Mike Pence for vice president notwithstanding, they have no idea how Trump will govern or whether his own predilection for big-government solutions and social liberalism will betray their hopes. But let’s put aside that element of the Flight-93 analogy and instead concentrate solely on their lack of faith in the power of conservative ideas.
The idea that immigrants will alter the character of the American nation is not a new one. It was voiced throughout the 19th and the early 20th centuries as those of Anglo-Saxon stock viewed with dismay the transformation of their WASP republic into one that was dominated by newcomers from Ireland, Germany, Italy, and Eastern Europe. Those immigrants came from Catholic countries and many were also Jews. The assumption of the nativists was that it was impossible for such people to adopt American values. They were wrong.
In 2016, America isn’t as good at assimilating immigrants as it once was. But one needn’t be oblivious of the forces driving us apart as a society to understand that people still come here because they value the fruits of economic and political freedom. That is true even if many of them don’t articulate their goals in this way. Many, and that is especially true of Hispanics, are also culturally conservative even if their notions of the role of government are not necessarily rooted in The Federalist Papers.
If conservatives want to win elections in the future their goal must be to convince these immigrants and their children of the virtues of conservatism. That won’t be easy. But it requires no great insight to observe that if Republicans and religious conservatives spend most of their time speaking about their intention to limit the number of Hispanics who can vote, then it is a virtual guarantee that the next several generations of Hispanic Americans will vote for the Democrats no matter how their own views on government or economics evolve.
Viewing 2016 as a choice between Trump and the apocalypse is not only divorced from any faith in the power of conservative ideas; it is also self-defeating. No matter who wins in November, the number of non-white Americans will continue to grow. Even if Trump were to magically deport all illegals, most of the people he fears are already citizens and don’t need a Clinton “amnesty” to exercise their constitutional right to the franchise. Republicans cannot prevail in the future as a white persons’ party. More to the point, unless they stop talking about demographic destiny and viewing fellow citizens as the moral equivalent of 9/11 murderers, they won’t deserve to win.