On June 11, 2014, more than a year ago, I wrote here on the Chronicles blog, “Right now the immigration issue is lying in the street for whatever Republican presidential candidate, if any, is willing to pick it up – and not just toy with it, but make another 40-year ban the centerpiece of his campaign. That’s shown by Tuesday’s primary defeat of Republican House honcho Eric Cantor, what Tom Piatak called ‘a victory for America.’”

Then on Dec. 17, I predicted, “But immigration will be the issue of 2016, especially in the GOP primary gauntlet.”

I had no idea who the candidate might be.

Turns out it’s Donald Trump. As everybody knows by now, in somewhat impolitic language Trump called for building a wall with Mexico and otherwise enforcing U.S. immigration laws. That gained him publicity, as did the backlash against him by politically correct companies he had done business with, as well as New York’s Stalinist mayor, Bill de Blasio.

So much for “free speech” in America.

Jeb Bush attacked him, to which Trump responded, “I am very proud to be fighting for a strong and secure border. This is a very important issue, which all the other candidates would have ignored had I not started this important discussion. I will fix the border – no one else knows where to begin.”

GOP National Party Boss Reince Priebus chirped Trump’s comments were “not helpful.”

Priebus and other D.C. denizens have no idea what’s going out in the real America. They don’t see how immigration has been so heavy for so long that entire small communities are being uprooted.

Especially affected are towns in the “swing states,” such as Ohio and Pennsylvania. Their welfare and school systems are being overloaded with poor immigrants who receive far more in benefits than they pay in taxes. It’s an issue that’s easily a winner for Republicans because Hillary already strongly has backed amnesty.

The big shots in D.C. point to immigrants who have come to Silicon Valley and become billionaires, creating hundreds of jobs. But that’s a few people in just one area – one that votes reliably Democratic. Out in the heartland – “flyover country,” as the snooty coastal elites deride it – everything is different.

Trump is a rich man, of course. But maybe he talks with the foremen and workers on his construction sites, who tell him what’s really going on. Or he just reads news from outside the D.C. Beltway.

In any case, Trump now leads in some polls.

His campaign reminds me of Pat Buchanan’s 1996 effort. Much as Trump now is attacking the TPP, branding it a “disaster” and insisting he’s a better negotiator of trade deals, in 1996 Buchanan rode attacks on GATT and NAFTA to victory in the New Hampshire primary.

After that, though, the GOP Establishment coalesced around slack Bob Dole, “the Tax Collector for the Welfare State” and “the senator from Archer-Daniels-Midland,” as conservatives dubbed him, and Pat ran low on campaign funds – a problem The Donald won’t have.

Since Buchanan’s earlier run in 1992, the GOP in the general election has won the popular vote precisely once, in 2004, when the fake real-estate boom goosed the economy and Bush-Cheney-Rove still were scaring the country about 9/11. (See this clip of 9/11 references from that year’s New York convention; and in 2000, of course, Bush won the electoral college).

Buchanan’s 1992 and 1996 runs for the GOP nomination – and for that matter his 2000 Reform Party campaign – advanced winning issues for the GOP. But the Party Establishment rather would lose to a Clinton or Obama than win with Pat and his issues.

It’s impossible to predict what happens next. I’m waiting for “opposition research,” perhaps assisted by IRS files or NSA intercepts, to start ripping into Trump. Remember the “Filegate” controversy in Bill Clinton’s first term?

But at least Trump is bringing up the important issues and making the media cover them.