Not the Ben Cline that I know

ben clineHow hard is it to be a Republican these days? Consider Ben Cline, who had to brag about visiting the White House for that embarrassing salute ICE event in which President Trump saluted the “perfect English” of a Latino Border Patrol agent.

“If elected to Congress,” Cline said in a statement on the event, “I am committed to working with President Trump to build the border wall, end Sanctuary Cities, and strengthen the ability of ICE to enforce our laws.”

I’ve known Ben since his first campaign for the House of Delegates back in 2002, and this isn’t exactly the Ben that I know.

Yes, I’m sure someone out there will send me a list of votes from Cline on bad legislation from over the years. Virginia Republicans really outdid themselves, in particular, back during that Bob McDonnell blip on the gubernatorial radar.

And, yes, Ben Cline is a pretty standard conservative Republican, which is to say, he’s not Emmett Hanger, leading the effort to finally get Medicaid reform done, or anything close to it.

When I talk about the Ben that I know, I’m thinking of the Ben Cline at a neighborhood watch meeting in Augusta County, pledging to help a community beset by vandalism get the resources it would need to protect itself.

Or, the tour I took with Cline and Dels. Dickie Bell and Steve Landes at Vector Industries, a Waynesboro-based nonprofit that employs more than 100 local individuals with mental and physical disabilities, last summer, to learn more about the red tape that was making it hard for Vector to continue doing what it has been doing since 1969, then doing something about it in Richmond.

I’ve been covering politics long enough that I know that politicians have to do certain things, say certain things, posture a certain way, based on what’s going on at the national level.

After Mitt Romney’s presidential election loss in 2012, Republicans looked inward at what they were doing wrong, and decided that among other things their years-long push on immigration had become a millstone, given America’s changing demographics.

The about-face on immigration would never take shape, because Donald Trump ran to the alt-right on the issue, stirring up nativist sentiment that had seemingly been pushed to the far reaches of the fringe of modern American culture.

It’s to a point now where the Trump administration has assembled a team using your taxpayer dollars to pore through decades-old papers of naturalized citizens looking for typos that can be used to initiate deportation proceedings.

I’m not claiming to know what Ben Cline really thinks of the barbaric turn on immigration policy that Trump has taken us all on.

Maybe he’s as on board privately as he is publicly based on the sentiments expressed in his statement.

I’d like to think that the reasonable guy that I’ve known has some serious reservations about the direction of immigration policy under Trump.

My point here is: you want to run as a Republican these days, it doesn’t matter what you really think, about immigration, about the senseless trade wars, about the pretension that dismantling ObamaCare is actually itself healthcare reform, about a lot of other things that are being done in the name of Trump, and at his direction.

The only Republicans standing up to Trump are the ones who are deciding against running for re-election.

The fate of the Federalists and the Whigs is about to befall this assemblage.

Column by Chris Graham


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