The GOP and Immigration: Dissent from the Conventional Wisdom

Mark Krikorian and Heather MacDonald dissent from the conventional wisdom concerning the Republican stance on immigration. President Obama has helpfully suggested that the Republicans should embrace amnesty to help the GOP’s electoral outcomes, and many establishment Republicans agree (The Wall Street Journal has four articles defending the conventional wisdom in today’s edition.) The idea is that Hispanics don’t vote Republican principally because the Republicans are the anti-immigration party.

Of course, it is pretty hard to say that the Republican Party is anti-immigration. George Bush helped promote the housing bubble to fund easy lending for illegal immigrants, and John McCain embraced amnesty with all his heart, mind, and soul. Romney had already agreed to go along with Obama’s illegal amnesty, and Mitt never met an H1-B visa application he didn’t like.

But I digress. Setting the stereotype of Republicans as anti-immigration hardliners aside, Krikorian and MacDonald point to the data that shows that Hispanics are heavily Democratic chiefly because they agree with the Dems on the redistributive agenda of the welfare state. The heavy Hispanic support for raising the income tax in California is recent evidence of this fact.

If the Republicans want the Hispanic vote, they need to embrace the welfare state with the same fervor as the Democrats. And a majority of Hispanics like gay marriage according to a recent Pew poll cited by MacDonald, so Republicans should apparently drop criticism of that too.

We should of course not ignore the relevant social science. The facts show that Republicans stand to gain far more by getting self-identified conservatives to vote for their candidate than they do by getting even a substantial number of Hispanics to join the Republican coalition. (Krikorian does the math on this.)

Since the advent of modern liberalism in the mid-1960′s, Republicans running to the center have been trounced pretty regularly. Establishment candidates like Gerald Ford, Bush 41 (after it became clear he was no Reagan) Bob Dole, John McCain, and Mitt Romney come to mind. Bush 43 ran to the right and governed to the center-left, but his electoral success came from running to the right.

One might also think of mid-term elections here. A comparison of 2006 and 2010 shows what happens to “centrist,” establishment Republicans versus Reaganesque conservatives.

But I don’t think those who believe the Republicans need to embrace unlimited immigration and stop speaking about moral issues need to fear–the conventional wisdom is very strong. The arguments of the establishment (Karl Rove anyone?) possess a zombie-like tenacity. 

  1. Patrick in Albuquerque
    1. The number of people who want unlimited immigration is not very big percentage-wise; ie, you’re loading the deck with your phraseology. 2. You may remember the former member Kenneth. He and I regularly went round and round about why African Americans are 95% Democratic. I continue to argue that the high percentage is due to the Southern Strategy of Richard Nixon et al. Latinos will grow beyond their relatively small percentage of the electorate, and I argue that our opposition to immigration reform will be the functional equivalent of the the Southern Strategy.

    3. The notion that we’re going to force someone who’s been here 20 years to self-deport is fantastical. We gotta get over it.

    4. I’ve tried to understand your last paragraph. I guess I’m too old.

  2. bagehot99

    I think the navel-gazing is premature, and likely to result in a knee-jerk response that may not work out well in the long term.

    What just happened? The election turned into a base election, and their base is bigger than ours. On balance, the late turn toward Romney,  and the enthusiasm we all felt, was clearly not shared by indies. Why? Because he was successfully defined by the Obama ad blitz, and despite what we (the base) thought, he wasn’t able to redefine himself.

    It turns out that there are still people who can be convinced that the economy is a trainwreck, we’re in debt up to our ears, and there are no jobs because Mitt Romney is rich.

    This is why the campaign for 2016 starts today – it is the job of every conservative/libertarian public figure to explain why smaller government and fewer regualtions promote entrepreneurialism and lead to jobs and economic prosperity. And that’s why it’s a problem, because many elected conservatives could not explain this simple concept, because they either don’t believe it, or they don’t understand it.

  3. John Grant
    C

    We have de facto unlimited immigration right now. Sure no one says that as an official position, because a large majority of Americans are opposed to it.

    African-Americans turned against the Republicans long before Richard Nixon.

    You missed the whole point of my piece. It won’t work to end opposition to immigration–the GOP will have to end its opposition to the welfare state simply. Don’t believe me–look at what the data says.

    Patrick in Albuquerque: 1. The number of people who want unlimited immigration is not very big percentage-wise; ie, you’re loading the deck with your phraseology. 2. You may remember the former member Kenneth. He and I regularly went round and round about why African Americans are 95% Democratic. I continue to argue that the high percentage is due to the Southern Strategy of Richard Nixon et al. Latinos will grow beyond their relatively small percentage of the electorate, and I argue that our opposition to immigration reform will be the functional equivalent of the the Southern Strategy.

    . · 0 minutes ago

  4. John Grant
    C

    Look at the piece by Sean Trende at RCP. The big issue is the GOP failure to motivate their base. The GOP ran a Bob Dole/John McCain style campaign and ignored the lessons from Reagan in ’80 and ’84 and the Tea Party enthusiasm of 2010.

    bagehot99: I think the navel-gazing is premature, and likely to result in a knee-jerk response that may not work out well in the long term.

    What just happened? The election turned into a base election, and their base is bigger than ours. On balance, the late turn toward Romney,  and the enthusiasm we all felt, was clearly not shared by indies. Why? Because he was successfully defined by the Obama ad blitz, and despite what we (the base) thought, he wasn’t able to redefine himself.

    It turns out that there are still people who can be convinced that the economy is a trainwreck, we’re in debt up to our ears, and there are no jobs because Mitt Romney is rich.

    . · 18 minutes ago

  5. Astonishing

    The math that matters most: Obama won.

    Dubya captured enough Hispanic vote to win twice. (In 2004 Bush won 44%.) But hardliners shot down Dubya’s  rational attempts at comprehensive immigration reform.

    Hispanics took note, Romney took less than 25%, and Obama retained the presidency in 2012.

    So instead of Dubya’s more reasonable version of immigration reform, now we will get Obama’s more extreme version of immigration reform, which will sink the GOP into an even deeper hole with Hispanics.

    Politically: Estúpido!

    And, oh, by the way, not only will we get Obama’s version of immigration reform, we’ll also get stuck with Obama’s version of tax reform, entitlement reform, missle defense, healthcare reform, etc. . . .

    For immigration hardliners there’s little middle ground. Proposals milder than their own elicit predictable screams. Amnesty! For example, when Rubio pushed his version of a dream act, hardliners undercut him, handing the issue to Obama, who easily turned it to his advantage.

    Meanwhile, instead of elevating Rubio to be the appealing face of conservative immigration policy, the GOP has allowed, and Krikorian’s CIS has actively promoted, camera clown  Shefiff Joe Arpaio to fill that role.

  6. Hoyacon

    If the solution is to engage in a four-year panderfest for the Hispanic voter, we need to define the terms.  Are my friends from Barcelona (naturalized) who remind one a bit of Ken and Barbie included?   I also have an old college friend from Mexico City who drives a Maserati but might have overstayed a Visa here.  Amnesty for him?  Surely there are undocumented Cubans in Florida who could be swayed to vote Republican with Raul taking over. 

    When we conferred “ethnicity” status on several disparate groups  who are united largely by their language (dialects aside), we’ve created kind of a hazy picture. Help.

  7. AIG

    These are several issues to consider when it comes to the Hispanic vote; they are not single-issue voters, after all. First, I completely agree with the assessment that they voted for the welfare state. I am an immigrant myself and have lived in immigrant circles for a long time. It is unfortunate, but the majority of immigrants that come to this country have a wealfare state mentality. They can’t help it; they know nothing but big government, and big American government appeals to them. That being said, this situation does not last forever; by the time the second generation comes around, those tendencies have disappeared. 

    Second, hardliners on immigration need to look at the country’s history. America exist today as the result of unrestricted immigration and unrestricted mixing. It is, in my opinion, anti-conservative to have an anti-immigration stance. I remember seeing a picture of Reagan campaigning in California in a car with the US and Mexican flags on it. Today, he would be attacked as a traitor. 

    Without the welfare state, immigration is not a problem. That should be our priority.

  8. Vince Guerra

    Immigration is a social issue for Hispanics. It’s about aunts and uncles and grandparents and wanting to escape the poverty and hopelessness in the home country. The economy does not interest or motivate them (it’s still a dreamland compared to where they came from). They vote for what they feel is best for their families. We need to make the cultural and values argument across the board. We need to hold up our values against theirs (and against the history of liberal policies) and contrast how much their (liberal/progressive) ideas have hurt everyone’s families.

  9. Patrick in Albuquerque
    John Grant: We havede facto unlimited immigration right now. Sure no one says that as an official position, because a large majority of Americans are opposed to it.

    African-Americans turned against the Republicans long before Richard Nixon.

    You missed the whole point of my piece. It won’t work to end opposition to immigration–the GOP will have to end its opposition to the welfare state simply. Don’t believe me–look at what the data says.

    Patrick in Albuquerque:

    42 minutes ago

    Latinos use more safety net services than most other ethnic groups. So what? Remember that the sort-of-recent-immigrant Founders were for redistribution of a sort. More recently Irish and Italians were Democrats when they first got here. Now they’re just run of the mill Americans.

    Furthermore, I live in a place where there are a lot of illegals. I assume their families use a lot of social services. But that’s not why the men are here. I see it with my own eyes every day; they are here to work hard, really hard.

    I’m an admirer of Heather McDonald, but she’s got her head in the wrong place here.

  10. Ralphie

    We did not have unrestricted immigration policies.  The latter and earlier part of the last century saw waves of immigrants and there were restriction policies.

    The German film director Billy Wilder went to Mexico to get an immigration visa because the ones for Europeans was full.

  11. Hoyacon
    Astonishing

    For immigration hardliners there’s little middle ground. Proposals milder than their own elicit predictable screams. Amnesty! For example, when Rubio pushed his version of a dream act, hardliners undercut him, handing the issue to Obama, who easily turned it to his advantage.

    Meanwhile, instead of elevating Rubio to be the appealing face of conservative immigration policy, the GOP has allowed, and Krikorian’s CIS has actively promoted, camera clown  Shefiff Joe Arpaio to fill that role. · 2 hours ago

    Astonishing:

    Your status as a fellow poster here and a (presumed)  fellow conservative entitles you to a degree of respect.  So I hope that  I show that.  But this mantra you’ve propounded in more than one thread over the last day or so that continues to ignore numerous intelligent responses to the same points you’ve made *several* times is undermining your perspective.  Get over Sheriff Joe.  Recognize that respect for Hispanic (illegal) immigrants goes hand in hand with respect from that group for the laws of our country.    Believe it.

  12. Patrick in Albuquerque
    Joseph Eagar

    Patrick in Albuquerque:  2. You may remember the former member Kenneth. He and I regularly went round and round about why African Americans are 95% Democratic. I continue to argue that the high percentage is due to the Southern Strategy of Richard Nixon et al. Latinos will grow beyond their relatively small percentage of the electorate, and I argue that our opposition to immigration reform will be the functional equivalent of the the Southern Strategy.

    Given these facts, I have a hard time seeing the Democrats sustaining their current coalition of African Americans (the primary victims of unskilled immigration) and Hispanics (the primary perpetrators).  Rather, I suspect the entire pro-immigration coalition on the left will collapse, Hispanics will become divided on the issue, and their votes will be up for grabs. · 17 minutes ago

    Of course, I hope you’re right. But, what metrics will allow us to know that your suspicion is coming true? How many presidential elections should we wait? What should we do if you’re wrong? I hope it’s not that we’re then going to say something blaming Latinos.

  13. AIG

    Joseph Eager, the Dem strategy is to get people on welfare rolls, not to have them compete for jobs. This is about government dependency vs. self sufficiency. 

    Ralphie, I agree with you that the later part of the last century did not have unrestricted immigration. It was also the time when the welfare state started and exploded. The two are not disconnected, and it is not necessarily a positive development. 

    Ultimately my argument is that we have departed far from conservative principles in our arguments on immigration etc. The conservative position is about self-sufficiency of individuals; the rest flows from this paradigm. Arguing for gov restrictions in order to help “communities” etc, through immigration control of otherwise, departs from this paradigm. 

  14. Astonishing
    Hoyacon . . Recognize that respect for Hispanic (illegal) immigrants goes hand in hand with respect from that group for the laws of our country.  . . .

    Illegal immigrants, by definition, broke the law to get here.

    But hardliners dispense that undeniable fact as a poison pill to preempt any rational attempt to address the equally undeniable fact that millions of Hispanic illegal immigrants are here to stay. In the face of that equally undeniable fact, hardliners chant ad nauseam: “They broke the law. We must not reward lawbreakers. Amnesty! Amnesty! Amnesty!”

    Those who care about upholding respect for law want bad law changed and new law passed to address the harmful consequences of the old bad law.

    With regard to our permanant illegal immigrant population, we have essentially two choices: 1. Refuse to legalize them, which effectively prevents them access to the economic and social mainstream, thereby creating a permanent Hispanic underclass that will persist for generations; or, 2. Find some reasonable, workable way to legalize them so that they and their children can enter the economic and social mainstream.

    The continuing existence of a Hispanic illegal immigrant underclass is corrosive to the Hispanic communities generally.

  15. JimGoneWild

    “Republican Party is anti-immigration” is  bull. We are anti-ILLEGAL-immigration. We’ll Deal the Border is Sealed.

  16. Astonishing
    Hoyacon

    Astonishing

    For immigration hardliners there’s little middle ground. Proposals milder than their own elicit predictable screams. Amnesty! For example, when Rubio pushed his version of a dream act, hardliners undercut him, handing the issue to Obama, who easily turned it to his advantage.

    Meanwhile, instead of elevating Rubio to be the appealing face of conservative immigration policy, the GOP has allowed, and Krikorian’s CIS has actively promoted, camera clown  Shefiff Joe Arpaio to fill that role. · 2 hours ago

    Astonishing:

    Your status as a fellow poster here and a (presumed)  fellow conservative entitles you to a degree of respect.  So I hope that  I show that.  But this mantra you’ve propounded in more than one thread over the last day or so that continues to ignore numerous intelligent responses to the same points you’ve made *several* times is undermining your perspective.  Get over Sheriff Joe.  Recognize that respect for Hispanic (illegal) immigrants goes hand in hand with respect from that group for the laws of our country.    Believe it.

    And by the way, speaking of repetitive mantras, I will “get over” Sheriff Joe when the hardliners get over “Amnesty!”

  17. Astonishing
    JimGoneWild:  . . . We’ll Deal [when] the Border is Sealed.

    Sorry, Jim, there’s gonna be a deal, and you missed your chance to participate in it.

    Hardliners shot down Dubya’s version of comprehensive immigration reform, so now we will all have to live with the Obama’s version of immigration reform, which will pass . . .  and his version healthcare reform, tax reform, etc.

    It didn’t have to be that way. Dubya won 44% of Hispanics. Romney got around 23%. That was the difference.

    I don’t like it either, but there it is.

  18. AIG

    Illegal immigrants, by definition, broke the law to get here.

    Legislation is created by us, and it is not always wise legislation. It is a poor argument to say that something should be opposed simply because it is illegal. We oppose legislation we don’t like (e.g. Obamacare), yet when it is convenient we say “it’s the law!”? 

    You can oppose illegal immigration, but when you make legal immigration so impossible to achieve that people have no other alternative, it’s no longer the same argument. Go to any graduate program in this country and count the number of foreign students; usually about 70% of the students. Every one of them wants to stay in this country, and yet for most of them we make it so impossible, that they either leave or resort to “illegal” activities to stay. This is purely self-destructive. This is not what America is about. 

  19. Astonishing
    AIG

    Illegal immigrants, by definition, broke the law to get here.

    Legislation is created by us, and it is not always wise legislation. It is a poor argument to say that something should be opposed simply because it is illegal. We oppose legislation we don’t like (e.g. Obamacare), yet when it is convenient we say “it’s the law!”? 

    You can oppose illegal immigration, but when you make legal immigration so impossible to achieve that people have no other alternative, it’s no longer the same argument.  . . .

    I’m in the choir you preach to.

    But also on the other end of the economic ladder, we must be realistic about economic forces that motivate unskilled or low-skilled illegal immigrants.

    Passing laws to try to prevent illegal immigrants from migrating in repsonse to economic forces is like passing laws to prevent birds from flying north in summer.

    Free markets allow free movement of goods, capital, and labor. Even for unskilled workers we need to increase the levels of legal immigration to reflect the market demand. But we must do so in a way that does not put our own native workers at an unfair disadvantage.

  20. AIG

    I agree with you Astonishing 100%. But, once we get to the argument of how do we allow for “legal” immigration (of low or high skilled labor)  in such a way as to not “unfairly hurt” our own workers, we may get into trouble. After all, the majority of the opposition to “illegal immigration” comes from arguments of protecting American jobs. I remember how “proud” some people were when one of the states (Alabama was it? I can’t remember) started a program limiting illegal participation in the work force, how this program “decreased unemployment!”. Well, any protectionist program (including in labor) will increase employment, but at the cost of economic output.  

    So far I’m with ya, but I can see this quickly deteriorating into a bureaucratic interest-group program, like we have right now with the guest worker program, or H1 visas where we tell Chung, Boris or Ahmed that they need to leave the country after they get a PhD because Billy needs special protection. 

    In America there is no such thing as “illegal” immigration, intrinsically. We invented this term as a protectionist measure. The real problem, is the welfare state.