Not long after Florida Sen. Joe Gruters pushed out a professionally produced video from El Paso, Texas — featuring coverage from the air of his borrowed pickup truck winding down dusty roads, and casual-sounding monologues delivered from the cab — but before the launch of his "listening tour" in Florida on the topic of immigration, this happened:
A 21-year-old white guy used high-powered weaponry to rapidly shoot and kill 22 people in a Walmart and gravely wound others.
In El Paso.
Nineteen of the dead had Hispanic surnames.
The assailant, in previous writings, had decried the “Hispanic invasion of Texas, adding, “It makes no sense to keep letting millions of illegal or legal immigrants flood into the United States, and to keep the tens of millions that are already here.”
The Sarasota-raised Gruters — a Republican legislator and chairman of the state GOP — is frequently bombastic, but his political instincts are unrivaled. So, this week, he halted his plans for a statewide listening tour that was scheduled to commence in GOP-friendly Venice.
“The rhetoric is so charged across the political spectrum that in order to have a truly productive listening tour we’ve decided to delay the tour to a later date,” Gruters said. "I figured it was better to delay and hopefully in a couple of months ... the timing might be better.”
Actually, Gruters' tour seemed doomed from the start to devolve into a predictable shouting match, and the passage of time won't change anything. (Hey, Sarasota can't have a civil "town hall" on the closing of the YMCA's gyms and pools, so who thinks immigration meetings can be conducted productively?)
In his video — which was funded by Florida Conservatives United and appeared like a campaign ad for someone running for Congress — Gruters flatly states that "this issue is not complex."
Immigration is immensely complicated. One example: Big business in Florida has supported Gruters and his "sanctuary cities" bill but not his call for employers to use E-verify to check the legal status of workers. Think the appeal of cheap labor is at work?
Plus, immigration has become tinged with inflammatory rhetoric. In his video, Gruters says, "Certainly we can't blame those families who are trying to cross the border. We obviously have to have compassion."
But then he goes on to cite the "drug traffickers, gang members, potential terrorists and sex traffickers" crossing the U.S. border unchecked.
I'm for a sane immigration policy.
However, remember that the terrorist in El Paso was a deluded U.S. citizen wedded to anti-immigrant rhetoric.
Tom Tryon is opinion editor.