GOP debate proves the party can't win the general election

The all too familiar lines of fiery candidates' speeches are designed to instill fervent patriotism, and for many – they seem to do just that. With Chris Christie declaring that children are terrified everywhere, Rand Paul announcing his fellow candidates could cause World War III and Jeb Bush cleverly touting Donald Trump as the chaos candidate – the contestants, err, candidates, were ready to make America great again. Yet, the Republicans have such a hate-filled rhetoric that the battle they must wage is to tout the United States of America as the greatest country in the world, while declaring her broken, weak, near extinction and decimated by terrorists.

The latest GOP debate took such a hardened tone on national security and immigration, and the interconnection of the two that I was left with a hopeless feeling that, by aiming for more national security — or maybe less national security — I was an un-American dunce who is causing the destruction of the United States of America.

Republican presidential candidates Donald Trump (L) and Jeb Bush (R) respond to each other as U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) listens during the CNN debate on Dec. 15, 2015 in Las Vegas.
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Republican presidential candidates Donald Trump (L) and Jeb Bush (R) respond to each other as U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) listens during the CNN debate on Dec. 15, 2015 in Las Vegas.

Unfortunately, crowd-pleasing and vitriolic language, particularly against immigrants, continued to be popular at the Republican debate. I am a first generation Cuban-American, son of a former Cuban political prisoner. Castro jailed my father for his pro-democratic beliefs and vocal support of the individual freedoms of every person. Yet, according to the leading Republican candidates for president – my father would not only have been unwelcome, but a likely threat to national security. My existence as an American would be null. I would never have been elected the first Latino legislator in Nassau County, New York; I would never have written dozens of laws protecting women from domestic abuse or children from sexual predators and the scourge of heroin. In short, I would never have lived the great "American Dream."

As Trump began his opening remarks, I half expected him to apologize for his outrageous, racist comments earlier in the week, but as the field showed various degrees of racism (though none so bold as The Donald), I wondered if they were pandering or do they truly believe that Mexican's will rape and Muslims will kill?

It has long been the belief that, in order to win the primary, the candidates for the Republican party need to be hawkish on immigration. To show any sympathy for illegal immigrants or refugees was considered weak and against the wishes of their base. However, Pew Research from June 2015 has noted that 56 percent of Republican voters believe in a pathway to citizenship.

We should have an amnesty policy that allows working, law-abiding aliens and opportunity to have a better life and commit to America. As of 2005, Pew Hispanic Center had noted that undocumented immigrants totaled more than 11 million. These people deserve a chance to live, work, serve in our military, and compete in the American dream. If someone has broken or breaks the law during the process they will be denied.

Where the candidates see a potential threat, I see a future legislator, inventor, engineer, teacher, American.

The only candidate who left any room to pivot come the general election was Jeb Bush. However, his sincerity in his beliefs could cost him the nomination because he is not playing to the angry base. The Dems are salivating because as it stands now – no Republican nominee will appeal to the general electorate.

We live in a country where the current political climate accuses the president of the United States of not being American enough. This is the oddity of the GOP primary election when Ted Cruz was born in Canada and of Cuban descent and neither of Trump's wives would have been welcomed to the U.S. under his policies. What would any of our sentiments towards this great nation be if we were denied citizenship based on the assumption that where we came from wasn't good enough, Christian enough, or white enough to be a part of the American dream?

And so, I think we need to understand what truly defines an American. We cannot be defined by the politics or disparity of our place of birth, the color of our skin, or our religious beliefs. It is the all-consuming acceptance and understanding that America is a place of opportunity and hope, competition and friendship, successes and sometimes failure – but always having the opportunity to rise from the ashes. We must welcome the "poor, tired, huddled masses."

The debate has proven what we already know to be true. The Republican base is an angry electorate. Outsiders like Trump and Cruz, dominate the polls and the pulpit – because they are the candidates that can speak the most to that anger. The irony, of course, is that we are all the sons and daughters of immigrants. The sadness we feel after turning off our TVs is that we realize how quickly everyone pulled the ladder up from behind them.

Commentary by David Mejias, a Long Island attorney specializing in family and divorce law. In 2003, Dave Mejias became the first Latino elected to the Nassau County Legislature, where he served from 2004 to 2010. He currently serves as the Chairman of the Long Island Hispanic Bar Foundation, the charitable branch of the Long Island Hispanic Bar Association where he has previously served as President. He is a managing partner at Mejias, Milgrim & Alvarado where he has practiced law for 18 years. Follow him on Twitter @davemejias.