Flashback: Ronald Reagan and George Bush Debate Illegal Immigration in 1980

Republican rhetoric on undocumented workers used to be shockingly restrained compared to what GOP voters demand today

The clip above is making the rounds, and I share the reaction of Alex Knapp: "I'm not sure what astounds me more. The compassion and pragmatism in Reagan and Bush's positions on illegal immigration, or the fact that they're not speaking in talking points."

Of course, the fact that two guys took a position three decades ago doesn't mean it's the right one, but the clip is testament to the fact that, although the Reagan/Bush team remains the most popular historical ticket among Republicans by a wide margin, and the subject of constant nostalgia, it isn't at all clear if GOP voters today would accept their rhetorical moderation or positions on offer.

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Conor Friedersdorf is a staff writer at The Atlantic, where he focuses on politics and national affairs. He lives in Venice, California, and is the founding editor of The Best of Journalism, a newsletter devoted to exceptional nonfiction.

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