On Immigration, Three Pathways to the Nomination


F7660Houston, Texas, once played a special role in American presidential history. It was there, in October 1960, that then-candidate John F. Kennedy addressed a group of Protestant ministers on the separation of church and state — a necessity, JFK’s camp believed, in order to lay to rest anti-Catholic concerns.

Houston was back in the news this week, again for something that overshadows the election. The drama this time: Jeb Bush appearing before a gathering of Hispanic evangelicals and laying out his stance on immigration reform.

What the meeting demonstrated: Bush’s strength and vulnerability on the topic.

His strength: not only his ability to speak fluent Spanish, but to deliver a message that other Republicans won’t dare. As The Washington Post reported:

“We have the ability because of immigration to be an emerging country again, to be full of optimism, to believe that our future is brighter than our present. But we have to fix a broken immigration system and do it in short order,” [Bush] said at the National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference.

Bush told the audience that reform would mean increasing border security and expanding the possibilities for legal immigration — “…but it also means dealing with the 11 million undocumented workers that are here in this country, 11 million people that should come out from the shadows and receive earned legal status.”

“This country does not do well when people lurk in the shadows,” he continued. “This country does spectacularly well when everybody can pursue their God-given abilities.”

Now, Bush’s weakness: taking his desire to connect with Spanish-speaking audiences a step too far (as far as conservative-leaning early primary electorates would be concerned). For example, equating illegal immigration to “an act of love”. Compassionate, yes. But also fingernails on the blackboard to his party’s conservative base.

Before coming to Houston, Bush paid a visit to Puerto Rico and the Universidad de Metropolitana Cupey, where he had this to say about the island’s future: “Puerto Rican citizens, U.S. citizens, ought to have the right to determine whether they want to be a state. I think statehood is the best path, personally. I have believed that for a long, long while. I’m not new to this.”

Credit Bush with putting himself, quite literally, out on an island. Back in 2012, Mitt Romney also supported statehood — albeit, in a more nuanced fashion. The rest of the field in the election generally avoided statehood talk.

So let’s see where two other leading Republicans — Scott Walker and Marco Rubio — end up on Puerto Rico, which offers candidates both abundant sunshine and 20 delegates to the 2016 national convention.

And, for that matter, where the Republican Lead Three (for now, anyway) stand on illegal immigration:

1. Bush. Back in February, at the Club for Growth’s candidate procession, Bush was asked if he was going to tailor his immigration stance. His response: “If I go beyond the consideration of running, I’m not backing down from something that is a core belief. Are we supposed to just cower because at the moment people are all upset about something? No way, no how.” Bush said he would endeavor to decrease family-based chain migration in favor of more economic immigration. As for those already in the U.S.: “My belief is we need to give people a path to legal status. You pay your fines, you get provisional work permits, where you come out of the shadows, you pay taxes, you pay fines, you don’t receive government assistance, you learn English, you don’t commit crimes. Any of those things that you do would be a deportable offense.”

2. Rubio. Three years ago, at this time, Rubio was pushing his compromise version of the DREAM Act — and fighting an uphill (and, ultimately, losing) battle (“I found it of interest,” House Speaker John Boehner told reporters. “But the problem with this issue is that we are operating in a very hostile political environment.” Translation: no way, no how). Today, as a candidate, he’s altered his message. This past weekend, in Iowa, Rubio told The Des Moines Register that border security comes before legalization. The paper wrote:

Rubio acknowledged that public appetite for immigration reform is lower than it was even two years ago . . . He and other senators “underestimated” the lack of trust Americans have in the federal government to secure the border. Gaining back trust will require boosting security along the U.S.-Mexico border, instituting a workable electronic employment verification system in which employers check prospective workers’ immigration status, and developing a better tracking system for people who enter the country legally to ensure they don’t overstay their visas.

3. Walker. To the political adage “never pick a fight with people who buy ink by the barrel,” Wisconsin’s governor is in a dust-up with The Wall Street Journal over an editorial claiming that he doesn’t understand much about immigration economics (Walker had said he’d curb legal immigration to protect American workers). A month earlier, the same paper reported that Walker told a private dinner of New Hampshire Republicans that he backed the idea of allowing undocumented immigration to stay in the U.S. and eventually become eligible for citizenship — though, publicly, Walker has stated he’s “not for amnesty”. All of which prompted Walker’s campaign to push back hard on what a former aide categorized as a “full, Olympics-quality flip-flop”. The odds of an anti-Walker super-PAC broadcasting those words across Iowa and New Hampshire’s airwaves?

So there you have it. Bush is digging in and wagering that a general-election message can survive survive sticks and stones — and February and March primaries. Rubio is playing up secure borders. Walker is talking both legal and illegal immigration.

Does anyone here have an advantage? Or, a decided disadvantage?

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  1. Guruforhire Inactive

    Advantage Walker.

    Pretty much everybody not well to do, and not working for the government would like to not get poorer.

    Campaigning on “Screw off, starve and die” is not exactly the winning message.

    Nor does “Vote for me, so I can reduce your wages and standard of living because you aren’t brown enough to matter.”

    Nor is the bi-annual Republican favorite of “Shut up and send money.”

    • #1
  2. Jim Kearney Contributor
    Jim Kearney

    I give Rubio a strong advantage on this issue over Bush and Walker, because of his personal history. He turns this issue around and makes it a personal asset. We are a nation of immigrants and refugees. At the same time he has learned from his mistaken collaboration in a Democrat-dominated bill back before we took back the Senate. This will give him the opportunity to talk about enforcement, but he can not be characterized as a “hater.”

    There is also political opportunity to the right of all three, and I expect that Rick Perry will come to embody that sentiment.

    • #2
  3. Petty Boozswha Inactive
    Petty Boozswha

    I don’t see any contradiction or flip flop in Walker’s position. We are a generous country – thousands of times more generous than Hispanics would be to us if the ratios of wealth and power were reversed – and we will probably consider a path to citizenship after the reforms are in place, they just can’t be on the table beforehand.

    • #3
  4. RushBabe49 Thatcher

    I’m sorry, but I really part company with the Wall Street Journal, who can’t seem to distinguish between Immigration and Illegal Immigration.  I have written multiple letters to their editors, and not gotten any kind of response.  We Conservatives have never been “anti-immigrant”, but “anti-ILLEGAL-immigrant”.  Read any of their editorials-they persist in describing us as anti-immigrant.  I no longer waste my time reading editorials or even stories in the paper on the immigration issue.  Sigh…

    I hope that whoever our candidate is can distinguish between the two.

    • #4
  5. Petty Boozswha Inactive
    Petty Boozswha


    The Journal has always been vociferously open borders. Michelle Malkin has written about how she was blackballed by the Journal’s editorial page when she was just starting out for questioning the party line on immigration.

    • #5
  6. Freesmith Inactive

    Not one of the three measures up.

    Like most Americans and certainly like most conservatives I am anti-legal immigration. We’ve had enough since 1965 and we don’t need any more. Importing new citizens who are not and will not be assimilated into American traditional culture and who do not share our small government ethos is so stupid as to beggar belief.

    Rubio’s misbegotten bill doubled current legal immigration rates from one million per year to two million every year, forever. Who cares if he secures the border if he permits that volume of legal immigration?

    The key question remains, “Do you favor increased, the same or decreased levels of legal immigration?”

    There is only one answer: “Today America needs fewer immigrants.”

    • #6
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