Republican candidates readily laid on the praise for former U.S. president Ronald Reagan at the second GOP debate Wednesday from the floor of a library devoted to the beloved, late president. But how did the positions of the adoring presidential hopefuls compare to those of the 40th president? When it comes to immigration, which has become the focal point of the 2016 GOP race, some candidates were reluctant to embrace Reaganism.
Reagan advocated for a pathway to citizenship for undocumented immigrants. "I believe in the idea of amnesty for those who have put down roots and lived here, even though sometime back they may have entered illegally," Reagan said at a presidential debate in 1984. In 1986, Reagan passed the Immigration Reform and Control Act, which gave amnesty to 2.7 million undocumented immigrants.
Many of the GOP candidates' rhetoric Wednesday stood in stark contrast from Reagan's poetic remarks about his hopes for the country, which he wanted to become "a tall, proud city built on rocks stronger than oceans, windswept, God-blessed, and teeming with people of all kinds living in harmony and peace."
Instead, several of the 2016 candidates addressed amnesty with anti-immigrant sentiment. In one instance, Republican front-runner Donald Trump railed against birthright citizenship. "We [the U.S.] are the only ones dumb enough, stupid enough to have this," Trump said.
Texas Sen. Ted Cruz also expressed his objection to amnesty and noted that he pushed a "massive amnesty" plan in Washington, D.C. "We need a Republican that stands for the rule of law and that says never, under no circumstances will we grant amnesty." Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush was less clear on his stance on amnesty, but has said he supports immigration reform, which he defended Wednesday. "We have to have assimilation to have a country," Bush said.
Immigration advocates slammed the tough talk. “The recent increase in anti-immigrant rhetoric from the GOP candidates was on full display tonight," said Marielena Hincapié, the executive director of the National Immigration Law Center, in a statement. "It’s clear that we no longer just have a Donald Trump problem - rather the entire Republican Party is responsible for pedaling policies and positions that criminalize and scapegoat America’s immigrant families.
— The Democrats (@TheDemocrats) September 17, 2015
No one pointed to the disparity between the 2016 candidates' and Reagan's immigration policies, but Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker addressed another major difference: Debate skills.
"That's what Reagan talked about - not how bad things were but how to make it better for everyone," said Walker.
Trump was positioned at the center of the stage Wednesday since he leads in the polls. Trump, Walker, Bush and Cruz were joined by Ohio Gov. John Kasich; retired neurosurgeon Ben Carson; Hewlett-Packard CEO Carly Fiorina; former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee; Florida Sen. Marco Rubio; and Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul.
Ratings from Republican primary voters in the national polls determined the candidate line-up. Based on the criteria, only 11 of the 17 Republican candidates were invited on stage.
Jake Tapper, CNN’s chief Washington correspondent, moderated the debate, alongside Dana Bash, CNN’s chief political correspondent, and conservative radio host Hugh Hewitt.
Debate questions were compiled from social media platforms such as Twitter, Facebook and Instagram. All candidates were only allotted one minute to answer questions directed to them.
The debate aired at 8 p.m. Wednesday and was preceded by an earlier, lower-tier debate featuring the less popular candidates, Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal, Sen. Rick Santorum, South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham and former New York Gov. George Pataki.