As GOP candidates debate immigration, a powerful reminder of Ronald Reagan

An immigration reform group is highlighting the change in tone between Reagan's immigration policies and those of today's Republican candidates.

Seth Perlman/AP
Wisconsin governor and GOP presidential candidate Scott Walker admires a bust of former president Ronald Reagan with his wife Tonette, in the Ronald Reagan Peace Garden last Thursday in Eureka, Ill.

As viewers tune in to watch 11 Republican presidential hopefuls take the stage at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library this week, they’ll also be met with an address by former President Reagan himself – with words that paint a far different picture of immigration policy than the one emerging on today's campaign trails.

That speech, made in January 1989 by an unwavering, twinkly-eyed President Reagan, is intercut with clips of three GOP candidates announcing their proposals regarding immigration, for a commercial put out by a heavyweight immigration reform group.

As Mr. Reagan speaks of a "shining city" beckoning "anyone with the will and the heart to get here," the ad jumps to Republican frontrunner Donald Trump and his statements that immigrants are “bringing crime” or are “rapists,” then to Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker and Texas Sen. Ted Cruz, who propose ending birthright citizenship.

“I’ve spoken of the shining city all my political life,” said Reagan. “God-blessed and teeming with people of all kinds, living in harmony and peace.”

“They’re bringing crime. They’re rapists,” Mr. Trump said. “If I’m elected, they’re gonna be out of there Day One.”

Gov. Walker is asked whether he believes that birthright citizenship should be ended. “Yeah. Absolutely,” he answered.

“I’ve said we should end birthright citizenship,” said Sen. Cruz.

“I will build a great, great wall,” Trump declared.

Then the words appear: “Ronald Reagan had a different vision for America.”

The ad is being run by the National Immigration Forum Action Fund, and will air this week on CNN, who is hosting Wednesday’s presidential debate. The group told The Washington Post that the commercials would also run on MSNBC and Fox News before and after the debate.

According to the group, the ad cost about three quarters of a million dollars

The blast comes as this season’s presidential contenders are trying to “out-Reagan one another,” reported Politico.

Behind the candidates on stage will be the Air Force One that carried Reagan and six other presidents throughout their terms in office. And now, they hope their endorsements and praise of the former president and conservative icon can carry them through a bruising primary season and return their party of Reagan to the White House for the first time in nearly a decade.

"It's a rite of passage for Republican White House aspirants to invoke Reagan," wrote CNN’s Stephen Collinson. "Conservatives see his presidency as a golden age during which their movement slayed communism, restored America as a 'shining city on a hill' and delivered 44 and then 49 states in successive presidential election routs."

The ad's message is unmistakeable, wrote Post reporter Ed O’Keefe: "Some of today's Republicans strongly disagree with the former president they all say they revere."

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