As the Republican primaries roll on and the candidates take positions on a variety of issues, immigration remains central. A non-surprising feature of the two debates and campaigns has been the frequent invocations of Ronald Reagan's name, a revered icon among conservatives. (Read here for an assessment of why conservatives love him; they include the beliefs that he shrank the national government, devolved power to the states, and generally left the nation stronger when he left office.) A testament to Reagan's continued importance to conservatives is that the second GOP debate was held in the Ronald Reagan presidential library. What would dismay the Gipper is the manner in which immigration is being discussed by the current crop of presidential hopefuls.
Trump's profoundly negative influence on this campaign cycle is to drag the field so far to the right on immigration, that the many GOP voters who currently support Trump and virtually all the other candidates taking the current hard line and nativist stances on immigration would run their beloved Regan (debating Bush, Sr. in 1980) out of town on a rail for heresy. Take a listen for yourself.
Bush, Sr. and Reagan in 1980 Presidential Debate (h/t Rob Barr)
In this clip, a young man from the audience asks both candidates whether undocumented children should receive a free public education or whether their parents should pay for their education.
Bush, Sr.: "I don't want to see a whole thing of 6 and 8 year old kids being made, one, totally uneducated, and being made to feel like they're totally outside the law. Let's address ourselves to the fundamentals. These are good people, strong people, part of my family is a Mexican."
Reagan: "They [Mexico] have a problem with 40-50% unemployment...Rather than talking about putting up a fence, why don't we work out some recognition of our mutual problems, make it possible for them to come here legally with a work permit, and then while they're working and earning here, they pay taxes here. And then when they want to go back, they go back; open the border both ways by understanding their problems."
The rhetoric from 1980 sounds quaint and politically inconceivable today. It seems that the GOP field is taking a buffet approach to Reganism, picking and choosing what they want from the 40th president's policies and ideas.
PS: I should add that the Supreme Court eventually settled this question in Plyler v Doe in 1982, guaranteeing undocumented children a free public education. Among the rationales was one Bush, Sr. mention; the Court majority did not want to create an "underclass" of undocumented immigrants of which children would become a "subclass of illiterates" (45 U.S. 202 @230) if they were barred from a free public education.