Even though Donald Trump was conspicuous by his absence, his favorite theme of immigration was the dominant issue for the remaining 14 Republican presidential nomination hopefuls who attended a forum in New Hampshire to kick off a crucial week of campaigning on Monday.
The Voters First Forum was effectively a warm-up for the first real face-to-face debate, which will take place in Cleveland on Thursday. There was no real debate, but the forum did allow the candidates to talk about their own beliefs and policies while answering questions put to them by a moderator. Trump decided not to appear at the debate, despite leading in the polls with Republican voters. He was annoyed by an editorial criticizing him that appeared in the New Hampshire Union Leader newspaper, which was one of the event’s sponsors.
Despite his absence, the issue that has catapulted Trump to both popularity and controversy ‒ immigration ‒ was among the most discussed during the forum. Every candidate admitted that a solution needed to be found while stressing the need to make sure that the US border is secure prior to dealing with any other issues.
Rick Perry, the former governor of Texas, disagreed with President Obama’s claim that much progress has been made on border security. Even former Florida governor Jeb Bush, who supports comprehensive reform, conceded that limits needed to be put on “chain immigration”. The emphasis on the immigration issue made it clear that Trump’s candidacy, which was initially seen as something of a joke, has made a huge impact on the candidate race.