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1980 Republican Debate About Immigration Looks Like Lefty Liberals Arguing

“What has become of the Republican Party?”

Image via YouTube

Remember when Mitt Romney said he had “binders full of women”? Or when John McCain said he was unsure how many houses he owned? With President Donald Trump moving forward on all of his campaign promises—from building a wall to banning immigrants and defunding abortion clinics—many of us would gladly trade a neo-Nazi influenced narcissist for a couple lady-packed binders. If the problem were limited to Trump’s erratic behavior, perhaps we could deal with the blowback of a single irrational person’s tirades. But the Republican Party swiftly falling in line with Trump’s divisive tactics has left both liberals and conservatives asking how did this happen?


Former San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom asked that very question in early 2016, right as the GOP appeared to be unraveling into its current, chaotic state. To highlight the party’s dramatic shift from moderate conservatism to far-right white nationalism, Newsom posted a video to his Facebook page of a presidential debate between Ronald Reagan and George H. W. Bush from 1980. In the clip, Reagan and Bush discuss immigration policy with thoughtfulness and surprising empathy for migrant workers. Newsom writes of this discussion’s stark comparison to modern discourse,

“This video is shocking. The way that Ronald Reagan and George H. W. Bush talked about immigration and the US/Mexico border in 1980—during a presidential debate—you would think that they were Democrats. What has become of the Republican Party?”

Most of us who remember a thing or two from high school U.S. history know Ronald Reagan—who went on to serve two terms as president—was far from a saint. Reagan’s “trickle-down” economic plan, which presumed tax cuts for the rich would eventually benefit the poor, led to the extreme income inequality we still suffer from today. In fact, a 2015 study published by the International Monetary Fund (IMF) revealed “trickle-down” policies stunt overall economic growth, while investing in poor communities benefits the economy as a whole. Reagan also propelled the AIDS epidemic by staying silent on the issue, leading to the deaths of thousands of people.

We can’t forget the devastating, far-reaching effects of Reagan’s presidency. That being said, the way Bush and Reagan conversed with one another on immigration policy reflects a mutual respect we’ve abruptly lost in the American political sphere. On the issue of illegal immigration, they both spoke reasonably about providing pathways for legal citizenship and opportunities for migrant workers to secure a living wage. Compare their remarks with Trump’s “nasty woman” comment or his dismissal of sexual assault as “locker room talk” during his debate with Hillary Clinton, and it certainly appears the Republican Party has lost all decency. Hopefully, modern liberals and traditional conservatives can find some middle ground to fight the complete erosion of democratic ideals.

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