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Immigration and the Republicans

Writing today in the Corner at National Review Online, Jonah Goldberg takes up the point I discussed earlier today about the necessity for Republicans not to frame the immigration reform issue as one in which their principal motivation is to avoid allowing more Hispanics to become Democratic voters. He agrees with me that’s wrong, but he also says that supporters of the gang of eight bill are mistaken to try and sell their legislation to the GOP on the grounds that it is good politics. He thinks the debate on the bill should rise and fall on its merits, and I’m perfectly happy to join him in supporting that sentiment.

Reform of a failed immigration system that makes a mockery of the rule of law and replacing it with something that both strengthens border security and provides productive and otherwise law-abiding residents of the United States a path to legalization is good policy. Contrary to many of our friends on the right who claim Republicans have a vital interest in derailing efforts to bring about that change, I see no conservative principle at stake in either defending the status quo or an unrealistic call for the deportation of 11 million people that we know are going nowhere. As many conservatives and most of the business community have long argued, immigration is not only a response to economic reality, it continues to be one of America’s great strengths and should be encouraged rather than opposed.

However, I disagree with Goldberg when he says that Republicans should not consider the political implications of the issue. He’s right that votes on the bill should be determined by “the national interest” on such a major issue and that, as I noted in my piece, there is no guarantee that poor Hispanics will become Republicans just because the party backs immigration reform. But while the bill isn’t going to be sold to the party simply because it is good politics, the problem is that strident anti-immigration voices on the right have already put the GOP in a position where it must do something to rebrand itself on the issue in order to have a hope of turning the situation around.

Many Hispanics already believe that people like Steve Deace and Steve Stockman accurately reflect Republican sentiments about Hispanics. I don’t think this is true, but in the absence of a party decision to throw in their lot with those advocating immigration reform, it will be hard to claim they are wrong.

There is no way of telling what will happen in the next few years in American politics. Issues and events may arise to redefine party loyalties and shift votes in ways we don’t yet envision. It is possible that Republicans may thrive even if they oppose immigration reform and may decline even if they embrace it. But the level of vituperation from some on the right about the prospect of increasing the Hispanic vote is becoming so conspicuous that it is the sort of thing that could have greater resonance than even the outcome of the debate on the bill. My point is not just that it is wrong for Republicans to talk that way as well as bad politics, though it certainly is both those things, but that a failure to aggressively combat those statements will be so dangerous to the party with Hispanics (as well as many other Americans) that it won’t really matter whether the reform bill is stopped or not.

Republicans may not have to embrace immigration reform to survive and shouldn’t vote for the bill on any ground other than whether it is right. But if they don’t act to aggressively counter those intolerant voices on the right that are writing off any possibility of GOP outreach to Hispanics, they are in big trouble. If someone can find a better way of convincing Hispanics that Deace and Stockman don’t speak for the party other than by supporting this bill, I’d like to hear it. But in the absence of such a suggestion, I’d suggest they’d do well to start thinking about strengthening the gang of eight’s bill rather than torpedoing it.



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