Once upon a time, immigration was famously supposed to be the main plank of the Republican moderation effort. In the wake of the 2012 election—when Latinos responded to Mitt Romney's talk of "self-deportation" by voting in droves for Barack Obama—even Sean Hannity decided that the GOP was going to have to give in a bit, lest the party drive itself into a demographic ditch for a generation.
"We've got to get rid of the immigration issue altogether," Hannity said.
So much for that. Thanks to Donald Trump's ever-more decadent and draconian appeals to anti-immigrant sentiment during the 2016 presidential race, other Republican candidates are scrambling to upgrade their immigration stances from merely dotty to outright insane. But it's difficult to wow the crowd when Trump has already promised to deport 11 million people and order Mexico to pay for a giant wall so that its many rapists are successfully contained; so some of the more desperate members of the pack have been taking the debate to very strange places indeed.
Take Chris Christie. The New Jersey governor is having a terrible campaign. He is a thoroughly diminished figure. Maybe that can explain the go-for-broke way he floated one of the more outlandish policy solutions you are likely to see.
This is Chris Christie's grand immigration plan:
"At any moment, FedEx can tell you where that package is. It’s on the truck. It’s at the station. It’s on the airplane. Yet we let people come to this country with visas, and the minute they come in, we lose track of them. So here’s what I’m going to do as president. I’m going to ask Fred Smith, the founder of FedEx, to come work for the government for three months, just come for three months to Immigration and Customs Enforcement and show these people."
That this plan is, in the most literal sense, dehumanizing is clear. That it is really, really stupid is equally clear. It falls apart when you ask the most obvious question: How in the world is it supposed to work? Are all visitors to America expected to submit themselves for barcode attachment when they land at the airport? What if they do what people do in the movies and stick their tracking-enabled visa on a moving train so that the shadowy villains watching the dot on the computer screen don't know where they actually are?
Asked to explain on "Fox News Sunday," Christie just repeated his initial idea.
"[People] don't have a number, you know, a label on their wrist," host Chris Wallace pointed out. "We can do it," Christie replied. Well, OK then! Chris Christie says we can do it, so let's do it! Where was this spirit when Hurricane Sandy was barreling down on New Jersey? Seems like all Christie needed to do was trek down to a beach and tell Sandy to go to hell, such is his forcefulness.
"I don't mean people are packages, so let's not be ridiculous," Christie concluded. To be fair, nobody said that they were—just that he wants to treat them like they were.
Scott Walker must have sensed that he was slipping behind in this regrettable contest—just as he is in the overall Republican race—so he came to Sunday's "Meet the Press" ready to rumble. His secret weapon? A border wall with Canada. After all, Donald Trump only wants a Mexican wall. Vote for Scott Walker and you might get double the walls!
When Chuck Todd raised the notion of building a Canadian wall to keep out terrorists (which: come on Chuck, though he didn't seem entirely serious), Walker responded enthusiastically, saying that people in all-important New Hampshire had mentioned that idea to him. "That is a legitimate issue for us to look at," he said.
Set aside the fact that, even if we could reasonably build a wall on the Canadian border, it would still be a stupid, stupid idea. Canada's border with the United States is 5,525 miles long. The border with Alaska alone is 1,538 miles. That is a lot of wall. At the rate the federal government moves, we could be building that wall for the next century. I can't wait for President Walker to tell Americans that they can't have Social Security anymore because this wall needs to get done.
Clearly, none of these plans is going anywhere. What's almost worse is that you know Scott Walker and Chris Christie don't think they're going to go anywhere. They are playing a game on the backs of some of the most easily targeted people in the country, and stoking some very dangerous fires in the process. If you want to see where that leads you, look to Europe, where migrants fleeing the most wretched conditions are drowning by the thousands and left for dead in abandoned trucks while governments compete to see who can spurn them the most.
Still, there's not many more places for Republican candidates to go now that they've decided they might like a wall to keep out Canada and one to keep out Mexico, and that they want to barcode every foreign visitor to the country. What's next, a giant dome so that we've got a border with the sky?
With candidates like these, though, you never know. Say, what's Rick Santorum's immigration plan?