Billionaire businessman Donald Trump has been driving the conversation about immigration within the Republican presidential field, whether the other candidates agree with his hardline stance or not.
Reporters have relentlessly questioned GOP presidential contenders about Trump’s characterization of immigrants crossing the border with Mexico as “rapists” and drug dealers ever since he made those comments in his presidential announcement speech last month.
Their responses fall into three categories: those who embraced Trump’s unapologetically hardline position on illegal immigration, those who distanced themselves from it and those who tried to straddle the line between the two. Here’s where each candidate landed on that spectrum.
Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX)
Cruz has called Trump “terrific” and “brash” while endorsing the real estate mogul’s hardline stance on illegal immigration in several interviews.
“I salute Donald Trump for focusing on the need to address illegal immigration. The Washington cartel doesn’t want to address that,” Cruz said last week on NBC’s “Meet the Press.”
Former Hewlitt-Packard CEO Carly Fiorina
Fiorina said Sunday on ABC’s “This Week” that the real estate mogul’s comments touched on a real anger among voters toward immigration policy that she hears about on a daily basis.
“People are angry about a common sense thing like securing the border,” she told host George Stephanopoulos. “It’s not extreme — it’s common sense. We need to secure the border.”
Retired neurosurgeon Ben Carson
Carson told The Daily Caller that he believed Trump was a victim of political correctness.
“It’s the P.C. police out in force,” Carson said. “They want to make very clear that this is a topic you’re not supposed to bring up.”
The retired neurosurgeon also said in a Friday interview with Fox News’ Neil Cavuto that that he’d consider Trump as a possible running mate, adding that he likes “people who are willing to say what they believe.”
Trying to have it both ways
Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker (R)
Walker on Monday said he “respectfully disagreed” with Trump’s comments on Mexican immigrants, but declined to say whether those remarks reflected poorly on the Republican Party.
In an interview with ABC News anchor David Muir set to air during “World News Tonight,” Walker said “Donald Trump and any of the others can speak for themselves.” Muir then pressed Walker as to what he would say to Trump on the GOP debate stage if the real estate mogul repeated the comments about Mexican immigrants.
“I respectfully disagree with him,” Walker responded. “I have a policy when it comes to immigration. Mine is simple. Mine is secure the border. Enforce the law. I don’t believe in amnesty. I believe citizenship should have a high bar.”
New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie (R)
Christie has twice vouched for Trump as a “good guy” and friend while criticizing the real estate mogul’s remarks on illegal immigration.
“It’s inappropriate. The comments were inappropriate,” he said Monday on Fox News’ “Fox & Friends.” “But listen, Donald is a friend, I’ve known him for 13 years, and I like him personally. But his comments were inappropriate. That’s now the 50th time I’ve said it. It’s going to be the last time I say it.”
Former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee (R):
Huckabee declined to endorse or criticize Trump’s particular views on illegal immigration last week on CNN’s “State of the Union.”
“What I have been doing is focusing on what my own views of immigration happen to be, rather than weighing in on getting in this battle of, are we with Trump or against Trump?” Huckabee said. “I say some things very differently. I say every night, I get on my knees and thank God I’m in a country people are trying to break into, rather than one they’re trying to break out of.”
In a subsequent interview with Fox News Radio, Huckabee praised the “unique” candidate’s ability to garner headlines and poll well nationally.
“I don’t think that people ought to wring their hands that Donald Trump is in there,” he told host John Gibson. “He’ll say things differently than most of us, he’ll say things that maybe some of us wouldn’t say, but he has as much right to be on the stage and speak his message as any of us.”
Former Sen. Rick Santorum (R-PA)
Santorum on Monday praised Trump’s focus on illegal immigration while positioning himself even further to the right of the controversial businessman.
“He wants more people coming in and wants to make it easier for them to come in,” the former senator said at a Christian Science Monitor breakfast. “I have a very different approach … I think it’s important he’s focused on the issue of immigration. I do believe it’s important, particularly to the workers I’ve been talking to.”
Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL)
Rubio recently told reporters that voters should be able to separate out Trump’s “divisive” comments on illegal immigration from the Republican Party.
“I obviously strongly disagree with him,” Rubio said at a campaign stop, adding that Trump’s comments were “inaccurate, they’re offensive, and they’re divisive.”
Yet when Fox News’ Neil Cavuto asked Rubio last week whether he was troubled that Trump criticized him as “weak” because he once advocated for comprehensive immigration reform, Rubio endorsed having a serious debate about illegal immigration.
“The problem is that border security is a very legitimate issue. Illegal immigration is a very serious issue,” Rubio told Cavuto. “What’s happened now is he’s made some other comments that are less responsible, and those comments are now what everyone’s focused on. I think the bottom line is the issue is that we’re sort of let off the hook, all of these people who don’t want to have a debate about illegal immigration, they want to focus on Trump’s comments about Mexicans.”
Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal (R)
Jindal last week told New Hampshire TV station WBIN that he disagreed with Trump’s comments, but said that he too would prioritize border security. He further added that immigrants should fully assimilate into American culture.
“I see people as individuals, not members of ethnic or economic groups,” he said. “But what I believe is that we do need to secure the border. And not as part of a comprehensive bill but we need to secure the border. Secondly, folks that want to come here should come legally, to learn English, to learn our values, to roll up their sleeves and get to work.”
Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY)
Paul declined to directly criticize Trump’s comments in a conversation last week with MLive.com and The Grand Rapids Press. As for his own position on illegal immigration, he ventured, “I believe most immigrants come to this country in search of the American dream.”
Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush (R-FL)
Bush, who speaks fluent Spanish and whose wife, Columba, was born in Mexico, told The New York Times that he took Trump’s comments about Mexican immigrants “personally.”
“To make these extraordinarily ugly kind of comments is not reflective of the Republican Party … He’s doing this to inflame and incite and to draw attention, which seems to be the organizing principle of his campaign,” he added.
Sen. Lindsay Graham (R-SC)
Graham, an advocate of bipartisan immigration reform and a path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants, on Sunday compared Trump to a “wrecking ball” who was destroying the party’s chances with Hispanic voters.
“I think he’s hijacked the debate,” Graham said on CNN’s “State of the Union.” “I think he’s a wrecking ball for the future of the Republican Party with the Hispanic community and we need to push back.”
Former New York Gov. George Pataki (R)
Longshot candidate Pataki was one of the first Republican presidential contenders to condemn Trump’s rhetoric:
— George E. Pataki (@GovernorPataki) July 1, 2015
“This is unacceptable,” Pataki wrote in an open letter to his fellow candidates. “I understand we must secure our border and stop illegal immigration. But I also understand that it’s not some Mexicans who are good people, it is the vast majority of Mexicans, who came here to work, succeed and live the American Dream.”
Pataki later challenged Trump to a debate on the subject.
Former Texas Gov. Rick Perry (R)
Perry said earlier this month that he found Trump’s comments on illegal immigration “offensive.”
“The fact is that I’ve said very clearly that Donald Trump does not represent the Republican Party,” he said on ABC’s “This Week.” “I was offended by his remarks.”
The former Texas governor later posted a three-minute video in response to Trump tweeting that he “failed at the border.”
“Mexican-Americans have been part of the fabric of Texas from the very beginning,and have fought on behalf of our state and our country from the Alamo to Afghanistan,” he said in the video, adding “your remarks might make for good reality TV but they’re way out of touch with reality.”
Ohio Gov. John Kasich (R)
Kasich, who is expected to jump into the presidential race at the end of the month, told reporters last week that he didn’t agree with Trump’s comments about illegal immigration. Instead, he said he’s worked to help undocumented residents of the Buckeye State “out of the shadows.”
This post has been updated.