Donald Trump choice of Andrew Puzder, CEO of a fast-food conglomerate that includes the Hardee’s and Carl’s Jr., as labor secretary has alarmed many on the left, who note Puzder’s opposition to increasing the minimum wage and to expanding overtime pay. But Trump’s pick has also raised hackles on the right, especially among those who most passionately agree with the president-elect on his signature campaign issue: immigration restriction.
“Trump Expected to Tap Labor Secretary Who Prefers Foreign Labor to American Workers,” blared the headline at Breitbart, the chief organ of Trump-style right-wing populism. “Puzder has suggested that available U.S. jobs should instead be filled by imported foreign labor,” Julia Hahn wrote in her lengthy attack, citing several op-eds the CKE Restaurants executive has written over the years. “Puzder has even gone so far as to suggest that he prefers foreign laborers to native-born American workers because foreign nationals are more grateful and have a better ‘attitude.’”
Mark Krikorian, executive director of the Center for Immigration Studies, writes in National Review that Puzder is the “worst person imaginable for that role” because he is “one of the nation’s most outspoken business voices for Gang of Eight-style immigration policies” and “he’s been a high-profile champion of amnesty and huge increases in immigration and guestworkers.”
Trump has opted for someone who thinks there are jobs Americans won’t do. Andrew “Gang of Eight” Puzder would have been a better fit for the Jeb Bush administration, though even Jeb might have blushed at the idea of appointing him. Assuming he’s actually nominated and confirmed, the Labor Department will go from being run by a post-American socialist to a post-American capitalist. So much for putting American workers first.
On Twitter, two of the most hardline anti-immigration voices in the media aren’t hiding their displeasure. Mickey Kaus appears to be hoping that enough Republican senators vote against Puzder to deny him the nomination. Meanwhile, Ann Coulter tweeted:
The anti-immigration right is fully justified in fearing Puzder. As Krikorian notes, the Department of Labor has vast administrative power in the immigration process, helping to certify guest worker visas and, depending on the discretion of the secretary, working with Immigration and Customs Enforcement. Under Obama, the Department of Labor hasn’t co-operated with ICE on enforcement—nor is that likely to change under Puzder, who sees immigrants as having a vital role in the economy.
The deeper concern among Trump’s hardcore fans is with the president-elect himself. He campaigned on a promise not to sell out grassroots Republicans at the behest of big donors, as the party establishment has done for years. One such betrayal was the willingness of Senate Republicans, the notorious Gang of Eight, to work with Obama on immigration reform. To those disillusioned Republicans, Trump said: I’m wealthy, so I can’t be bought, and will remain true to my word. But now that Trump is president-elect, he’s appointing a cabinet full of wealthy donors.
The legitimate worry among this crowd is that Trump played a brilliant shell game, selling himself on Coulter’s rhetoric but ultimately offering up Bush’s policies. There were already suggestions of this during the campaign. In August, Trump admitted it would “very, very hard” to deport all undocumented immigrants and hinted he’d be open to an amnesty. This news spoiled the book launch of Coulter’s In Trump We Trust, in which she wrote, “There’s nothing Trump can do that won’t be forgiven. Except change his immigration policies.”
Of course, a media personality like Coulter thrives on attention, and picking fights with Trump over immigration is a useful way to enhance her brand and present herself as a guardian of anti-immigration orthodoxy; if Trump does abandon immigration restriction, she can become the avenger of the betrayed.
It’s too soon to know whether Trump will sell out his base. There was always a good chance that he would disappoint the immigration hawks, given that the Republican Party is beholden to corporations like CKE Restaurants that thrive on cheap labor. And working with Sessions, Trump could still appease this particular faction with symbolic gestures, like ramped up public raids on undocumented immigrants. But overall, Trump’s cabinet picks suggest he could become Coulter’s worst nightmare: an orange, obnoxious Jeb Bush.
After all, at least one person approved of the Puzder pick: