Criminal justice reform, which Politico calls “a perennial lost cause for civil rights lefties,” had a bipartisan moment this year when conservative Republican voices like anti-tax activist Grover Norquist and the Koch brothers spoke out against mass incarceration and mandatory drug sentences. GOP presidential candidate Jeb Bush has embraced the pro-reform Right on Crime initiative, while Rand Paul and Ted Cruz have co-sponsored reform bills with liberal Democratic senators. Politico contends that the reform moment may not survive the summer of Trump. Trump has scrambled the politics of crime by running as a pro-cop, anti-thug “law-and-order” candidate, denouncing rioters in Baltimore and Ferguson, vowing to “get rid of gang members so fast your head will spin.”
As they have on the immigration issue, his rivals are echoing his appeals to the angry id of their party's white base, distancing themselves from bipartisan reform. Bush is now touting his Florida “eight-year record of cracking down on violent criminals” while attacking Trump as “soft on crime” because of his past support for Democrats and marijuana decriminalization. Candidates like Cruz and the usually Koch-friendly Scott Walker are trumpeting their toughness on criminal justice issues, blaming President Obama and the Black Lives Matter movement for attacks on police officers. In this climate, it's harder than usual to imagine GOP congressional leaders bucking their base to push reform, says Politico, which does not quote anyone involved in justice reform issues in Congress.