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Donald Trump’s Immigration Statements Will Find A Home In His Party

Donald Trump’s appearances on entertainment television look like they’ll be limited to his cameo in “Home Alone 2.” He was dismissed by Univision and then canned by NBC Universal. On Wednesday, Macy’s announced that it would pull his menswear line from its shelves, and New York City said it was reviewing its contracts with him, which include a golf course in the Bronx.

All of this is because of Trump’s deliberately strident comments about immigrants from Mexico and other countries who entered the U.S. illegally. This kind of language doesn’t play well with corporate America or the de Blasio administration, but there are already signs that enough Republicans may be open to his anti-immigrant message to give him mileage in the primary season. There are several reasons for this.

Most Republicans are more anti-immigration than their party’s official stance. In a May 2015 Pew Research Center survey, 59 percent of Republicans said their party has not done a good job representing their views on immigration. That number spikes up to 65 percent among Republicans who do not believe that immigrants who entered illegally should be allowed to stay in any fashion. In other words, the subject is the perfect springboard for an outsider presidential candidate like Trump to talk to these voters.

Republicans are generally not predisposed to think of Trump’s harsh remarks as racist, as many in the media have called them. In a September 2014 Pew poll, just 28 percent of Republicans said they believed that Hispanics face a lot of discrimination in the United States. To cite one example, Sean Hannity, the conservative talk-show host, said recently that Trump’s remarks were not “racially tinged.” A majority of Democrats (64 percent), on the other hand, said there was a lot of discrimination against Hispanics in the U.S.

Trump’s populist grandstanding, in fact, lines up with the views of a high percentage of Republicans. A majority of Republicans think immigrants — regardless of how they entered the U.S. — “burden” the country rather than make it stronger. In the May 2015 Pew survey, 63 percent of Republicans felt this way compared with 32 percent of Democrats. Just 27 percent of Republicans said immigrants made the country stronger, which was the lowest percentage recorded since 2004.

Republicans also have no interest in the kind of immigration plan championed by President Obama and Democrats (and a few Republicans) in Congress. In an April 2015 MSNBC/Telemundo/Marist College survey, 55 percent of Republicans didn’t want the president or Congress to pursue such reform. Trump can continue to make statements about Mexicans and immigrants without a plan of his own and does not need to fear much backlash from at least a subset of the primary electorate.

The issue of illegal immigration clearly remains important to some Republican voters. In the most recent CNN/ORC poll, 36 percent of Republican voters said it would be extremely important to their vote for president next year. Although that didn’t rank as high as the economy or terrorism, it was quite near foreign policy (37 percent) and health care (41 percent). It was considerably higher than race relations (27 percent), which has been in the news a lot recently. This means that if Trump continues to talk about illegal immigration, then at least some Republicans will continue to want to hear him out.

Now, it would be easy to associate Trump’s recent rise in the polls with his comments on immigration and Mexicans, but they’re probably not the cause. His bump probably occurred because his name has been mentioned everywhere, not because of his actual policy positions. That said, those comments aren’t likely to hurt him. In fact, when Republicans are exposed to his views in a debate, you probably won’t hear universal condemnation. There might actually be some applause.

Harry Enten was a senior political writer and analyst for FiveThirtyEight.