Commentary Magazine


Topic: immigration reform

Immigration Reform and the Lessons of ’06

Speaker of the House John Boehner boxed himself in on immigration reform, but an article in National Journal makes a compelling case that he has a plausible Plan B. His initial approach to immigration reform followed what has been called the “Boehner Rule”: have the Senate pass legislation first, so the House can avoid taking tough votes on legislation that will die in the Senate anyway (Nancy Pelosi’s decision to force the then-Democratic House to vote on cap-and-trade is a good example of what Boehner wants to avoid).

But as Boehner’s critics have noted, forcing the Senate to pass bills first removes some of his caucus’s influence on new legislation. And there is always the likelihood that anything that passes the Democratic-controlled Senate will be anathema to the Republican House–which is exactly what happened with immigration reform. The bill was crafted by a bipartisan “gang of eight” and produced a compromise bill that House conservatives greatly dislike.

After insisting the Senate go first, Boehner was left to explain why the Senate bill won’t even be considered by the House, and why it was necessary or preferable for the Senate to even pass a bill if it would have no influence on the legislation ultimately put together by House Republicans. It appeared that the “Boehner Rule” would damage the prospects of comprehensive immigration reform even more than the much-discussed Hastert Rule, intended in this case to prevent a bill being passed on the strength of the Democratic minority in the House.

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Speaker of the House John Boehner boxed himself in on immigration reform, but an article in National Journal makes a compelling case that he has a plausible Plan B. His initial approach to immigration reform followed what has been called the “Boehner Rule”: have the Senate pass legislation first, so the House can avoid taking tough votes on legislation that will die in the Senate anyway (Nancy Pelosi’s decision to force the then-Democratic House to vote on cap-and-trade is a good example of what Boehner wants to avoid).

But as Boehner’s critics have noted, forcing the Senate to pass bills first removes some of his caucus’s influence on new legislation. And there is always the likelihood that anything that passes the Democratic-controlled Senate will be anathema to the Republican House–which is exactly what happened with immigration reform. The bill was crafted by a bipartisan “gang of eight” and produced a compromise bill that House conservatives greatly dislike.

After insisting the Senate go first, Boehner was left to explain why the Senate bill won’t even be considered by the House, and why it was necessary or preferable for the Senate to even pass a bill if it would have no influence on the legislation ultimately put together by House Republicans. It appeared that the “Boehner Rule” would damage the prospects of comprehensive immigration reform even more than the much-discussed Hastert Rule, intended in this case to prevent a bill being passed on the strength of the Democratic minority in the House.

To add to the frustration of reform proponents, Boehner announced no immigration bill would be finalized before the congressional recess, despite his earlier hopes a vote would be held before the break. But that, writes National Journal, is actually a strategy to pass, not bury, immigration reform:

Keeping immigration on the back-burner helps avoid a recess filled with angry town-hall meetings reminiscent of the heated August 2009 protests where the backlash against health care reform coalesced. Doing nothing also starves Democrats of a target, Republicans argue.

“August was a central part of our discussions. People don’t want to go home and get screamed at,” a House GOP leadership aide said.

According to this strategy, Boehner and the GOP will use the recess to focus voter anger on Obama administration scandals and the latest ObamaCare outrages. Rather than follow the Democrats’ precedent on ObamaCare and unleash public opposition to their own bill, Boehner wants to use the recess to reignite the anti-ObamaCare energy. But while Boehner uses ObamaCare as the template to avoid, there is actually another precedent that is even more relevant to this issue: the 2006 meetings held by congressional Republicans to oppose immigration reform during George W. Bush’s second term.

Bush supported efforts to reform the immigration system and his outreach to Hispanic immigrants enabled him to get more than 40 percent of the Hispanic vote in his 2004 reelection campaign against John Kerry. In his book Let Them In: The Case for Open Borders, Jason Riley quotes Democratic strategist Simon Rosenberg as saying that the Democrats were taking the Hispanic vote for granted and Republicans were reaching out to those same voters. It appeared the GOP had solved the riddle:

“I thought the Republicans had probably passed the tipping point on this thing with Latinos,” says Rosenberg. “I thought the Democrats had been caught flat-footed, that Bush and Dowd had moved an unbelievably powerful strategic chess piece. Then the Republicans decided to hold those field hearings. I said, ‘I can’t believe they’re really going to do this.’ “

[…]

Republicans believed, with reason, that heavy turnout facilitated GOP gains in 2002 and 2004, and they were terrified that their base would stay home in November. Politicians are famous for their inability to see past the next election, and congressional Republicans in 2006 were no different. They covered their ears to warnings from Bush, Mehlman, and Rove that the strategy could backfire and spent the months leading up to the midterms desperately trying to demonize illegal aliens.

There were no doubt a number of factors that led to the GOP’s disastrous results in the 2006 midterms. But Boehner seems to understand that giving immigration opponents the space to rally the base would prove the GOP had unlearned at least some of the lessons from 2006.

In addition to trying to divert grassroots conservative attention away from immigration reform, Boehner also seems to be–intentionally or not–ceding that space to supporters of immigration reform. The Hill reports that “Business groups, tech companies and labor unions are bringing down the hammer on House Republicans over immigration reform.” These groups “worry the August recess could be their Waterloo, and are planning events, rallies and editorial board meetings to keep their legislative push alive.”

As veterans of the press or electoral politics know all too well, generally opponents of anything are far more energized and voluble than supporters of the same. It’s difficult to imagine, for example, the Chamber of Commerce mustering the kind outrage in support of immigration reform typified by opponents of ObamaCare or the earlier iteration of comprehensive immigration reform. Nonetheless, the GOP’s House leadership is convinced the delay is the only way to save immigration reform. Whether such a bill ultimately passes or not, avoiding a replay of the angry anti-immigration days of 2006 can at least prevent the right from doing even more damage to its standing among immigrant groups.

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GOP Leaders’ Wise Rebuke of Steve King

The Washington Post‘s Jennifer Rubin is right to praise Speaker John Boehner and House Majority Leader Eric Cantor for their criticisms of Republican House member Steve King.

Representative King, speaking about legislation that would legalize illegal immigrants who were brought to the United States by their parents as young children, said this:

They will say to me and others who would defend the rule of law, “We have to do something about the 11 million. And some of them are valedictorians.” Well my answer to that is – and by the way, their parents brought them in, it wasn’t their fault. It’s true in some cases, but they aren’t all valedictorians. They weren’t all brought in by their parents. For everyone who’s a valedictorian, there’s another 100 out there that they weigh 130 pounds and they’ve got calves the size of cantaloupes because they’re hauling 75 pounds of marijuana across the desert. Those people would be legalized with the same act.

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The Washington Post‘s Jennifer Rubin is right to praise Speaker John Boehner and House Majority Leader Eric Cantor for their criticisms of Republican House member Steve King.

Representative King, speaking about legislation that would legalize illegal immigrants who were brought to the United States by their parents as young children, said this:

They will say to me and others who would defend the rule of law, “We have to do something about the 11 million. And some of them are valedictorians.” Well my answer to that is – and by the way, their parents brought them in, it wasn’t their fault. It’s true in some cases, but they aren’t all valedictorians. They weren’t all brought in by their parents. For everyone who’s a valedictorian, there’s another 100 out there that they weigh 130 pounds and they’ve got calves the size of cantaloupes because they’re hauling 75 pounds of marijuana across the desert. Those people would be legalized with the same act.

In a statement, Boehner said, “There can be honest disagreements about policy without using hateful language. Everyone needs to remember that.” Mr. Boehner, later in the week, amplified his criticisms by saying this: “Earlier this week, Representative Steve King made comments that were, I think, deeply offensive and wrong. What he said does not reflect the values of the American people or the Republican Party.” And Cantor, the second-ranking House Republican, said of King’s remarks: “I strongly disagree with his characterization of the children of immigrants and find the comments inexcusable.” (Cantor is working on a bill that would legalize young undocumented immigrants.)

Representative King’s interview with NewsMax.com is worth watching. His comments actually started out with the goal of showing sympathy for young kids who were brought here by parents who are illegal. But King couldn’t contain himself; he felt compelled to portray a reasonable and humane idea as something that would “destroy the rule of law” and rip apart American society. In order to do that, he had to distort the fact. The Senate proposal says that to qualify for provisional status those applying would need to maintain clean criminal records, including no felony convictions, no more than three misdemeanor convictions or a conviction of a serious crime in another country, and no unlawful voting.  

Beyond that, one cannot help but sense that underneath it all, what animates Mr. King on this issue is a consuming rage against undocumented workers and their families. I wouldn’t deny for a moment that some illegal immigrants create problems for our nation. But that is far from the full picture. Some people who come to America illegally, and their children, make genuine contributions to our nation. The truth is it’s a mixed bag. But Mr. King has no interest in subtleties. He is a man on a mission. He wants to get people to think of illegal immigrants and their children simply as malignancies, a kind of existential threat to American civilization (he’s compared illegal immigration to a “slow-rolling, slow motion terrorist attack on the United States” and and a “slow-motion holocaust”), as bordering on being sub-human. Which is why the rebuke of him by the House Republican leadership was wise and necessary. It is imperative that the party of Lincoln and Reagan separates itself from the views of people like Mr. King. 

There are certainly reasonable and thoughtful critics of immigration reform. Steve King doesn’t happen to be one of them. His views need to be isolated, like a contagion–not by Democrats but by his fellow Republicans. John Boehner and Eric Cantor understand that. This was an important step and I hope other Republican leaders add their own voices to those of Boehner and Cantor. Because people like Steve King aren’t going away. Rather than ignoring them, influential Republicans need to confront them, as a way to illustrate what the true convictions of the GOP are.

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The Voice of the Know-Nothing Caucus

Rep. Steve King’s predilection for saying foolish things is well known. The latest shot from the Iowa Republican’s hip was his denunciation of those who might be beneficiaries of a bill that might legalize those illegal immigrants who were brought to this country as children. Rather than accept the fact that most of these youngsters are going to college, working, serving in the armed forces, and generally being a credit to their adopted country, King chose to smear them as predators and threats to society in a Newsmax interview:

“For everyone who’s a valedictorian, there’s another 100 out there who weigh 130 pounds — and they’ve got hands the size of cantaloupes because they’re hauling 75 pounds of marijuana across the desert,” King tells Newsmax. “Those people would be legalized with the same act.”

For this outbreak of hoof-in-mouth disease in which he stereotyped Latinos as drug smugglers, Republicans such as Speaker John Boehner as well as Rep. Raul Labrador, who has joined King in opposing the Senate’s bipartisan immigration reform bill, spanked King. But the outspoken Iowan was unfazed and doubled down on his slander. King’s loose prejudicial talk will become a major headache for Republicans if he is able to rally enough Tea Partiers to help him get the GOP nomination for the Senate next year. Tom Harkin’s retirement creates an open seat in Iowa and it is a winnable race for Republicans if they can avoid nominating a loose cannon like King. But the real problem for the GOP isn’t so much that a loud mouth like King will be next year’s version of Todd Akin as it is the way he is giving voice to a nasty element of the party’s grass roots on immigration that threatens to hijack both the debate on the issue as well as the party.

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Rep. Steve King’s predilection for saying foolish things is well known. The latest shot from the Iowa Republican’s hip was his denunciation of those who might be beneficiaries of a bill that might legalize those illegal immigrants who were brought to this country as children. Rather than accept the fact that most of these youngsters are going to college, working, serving in the armed forces, and generally being a credit to their adopted country, King chose to smear them as predators and threats to society in a Newsmax interview:

“For everyone who’s a valedictorian, there’s another 100 out there who weigh 130 pounds — and they’ve got hands the size of cantaloupes because they’re hauling 75 pounds of marijuana across the desert,” King tells Newsmax. “Those people would be legalized with the same act.”

For this outbreak of hoof-in-mouth disease in which he stereotyped Latinos as drug smugglers, Republicans such as Speaker John Boehner as well as Rep. Raul Labrador, who has joined King in opposing the Senate’s bipartisan immigration reform bill, spanked King. But the outspoken Iowan was unfazed and doubled down on his slander. King’s loose prejudicial talk will become a major headache for Republicans if he is able to rally enough Tea Partiers to help him get the GOP nomination for the Senate next year. Tom Harkin’s retirement creates an open seat in Iowa and it is a winnable race for Republicans if they can avoid nominating a loose cannon like King. But the real problem for the GOP isn’t so much that a loud mouth like King will be next year’s version of Todd Akin as it is the way he is giving voice to a nasty element of the party’s grass roots on immigration that threatens to hijack both the debate on the issue as well as the party.

Conservatives may agree to disagree on the virtues of various immigration reform proposals, but the dilemma for Republicans isn’t so much the question of who is right about the details of the gang of eight’s bill, or any possible alternatives that are probably going to be killed in the House by recalcitrant conservatives. The problem is that the driving force behind this debate isn’t whether it will help or hurt the economy or whether it will uphold the rule of law or undermine it. The unfortunate truth is that as much as the adults in the House GOP would like to shush King, his stupid remarks are a fair representation of what many of those baying about “amnesty” and calling conservatives like Marco Rubio and others who support reform “traitors” are thinking.

Lest you think I’m making a mountain out of a molehill, Ramesh Ponnuru, who writes in National Review against immigration reform, agrees with my conclusion when he conceded in response to something I wrote that, “much of the opposition to the legislation is cultural rather than economic.” Ponnuru disagrees with my belief that “cultural concerns about immigration are necessarily disreputable or suspect” since he believes America’s social cohesion is undermined by having too many immigrants. But such arguments seem to be primarily about putting an intellectual gloss on hostility to newcomers that is a prejudice that is as old as the republic. 

There are legitimate worries about whether liberal policies have undermined the natural assimilation process that every generation of immigrants has undergone. But when Ponnuru speculates that polls that show hostility to immigrants are based on the “cultural” concerns he is championing, what he is doing is exposing the ugly underside of a movement that has more in common with 19th century Know Nothings than modern conservatism.

What those who try to defend this point of view fail to understand or acknowledge is that their belief that this generation of immigrants is somehow different from every previous wave of newcomers to this nation is far from original. The same arguments about the unsavory impact on American society that will result from importing a large number of low-skilled immigrant workers were made in the 19th century about the Irish, Germans, Italians, and Jews. Like today’s Hispanic migrants, those immigrants didn’t speak English, tended to isolate themselves in their own communities and didn’t have much in common with the WASPs that had preceded them on American shores. They also filled a need for low-skilled labor.

The Know Nothings and their successors didn’t believe in the power of American society to assimilate new arrivals. Neither do those who oppose immigration today. While contemporary conditions are different, that basic truth is not. Immigrants always change America, but there is no reason to believe that the impact of this influx will be any less salubrious than the tide of Eastern and Southern Europeans that previous generations of nativists so feared.

That brings us back to King. Though he is less cagey about his articulation of this cultural opposition to the bill than many other opponents, his insults probably are a better representation of the core beliefs of the anti-immigrant crowd than the more presentable views of Ponnuru.

What Speaker Boehner and other responsible Republican leaders must understand is that by allowing King and other knee-jerk anti-reform members to intimidate the GOP caucus into spiking any chance for reform, he is letting the House be governed by the basest instincts in our political firmament. The Weekly Standard’s William Kristol and National Review’s Rich Lowry wrote earlier this month that, unlike the case in 2006, opposition to the gang of eight’s bill had been “responsible” rather than being based in hostility to immigrants. King’s outburst is just the latest evidence to show that the “cultural” basis for opposing the legislation (as opposed to the reasoned approach taken by Kristol and Lowry) that is drenched in prejudice is the real driving force behind this debate.

The biggest long-term problem for Republicans isn’t the alienation of Hispanic voters. It’s that letting people like King call the tune in the House will turn off moderates and conservatives that don’t wish to be associated with bigots and their fellow-travelers. No amount of “missing white voters” or other possible solutions to the GOP’s dilemma can overcome that sort of image.

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Is ObamaCare an Impediment to Immigration Reform?

There are two ways to look at the immigration section of the latest Washington Post/ABC News poll, neither of which is particularly encouraging. Pessimists will note right off the bat the public’s lack of enthusiasm toward the Senate immigration bill: it gets barely a plurality, but not majority, support from voters. Those who “strongly” oppose the plan outnumber those who “strongly” support it. There was lukewarm support for a path to citizenship. And only 32 percent want an up-or-down vote on the Senate bill to take place in the House.

But there is something of a silver lining. Although just a third want a House vote on the Senate bill, that’s not because respondents wanted the issue to be shunted aside: only two percent want no consideration of immigration reform by the House at all. A majority, in fact, approve of House Speaker John Boehner’s approach, which entails breaking up the bill and considering various pieces of the reform effort as standalone bills. There is, however, a major problem with this strategy, which I wrote about the last time it was floated.

Republicans are wary of a path to citizenship for immigrants currently in the country illegally. And a piecemeal approach taken by the GOP-controlled House is unlikely to address the aspects of the reform effort that aren’t popular with conservatives, the path to citizenship among them. But Democrats control the Senate and will not vote to pass anything that doesn’t offer a path to citizenship. Republicans can play chicken with the Senate Democrats and pass sensible pieces of legislation and dare the Democrats not to support them. But that brings Republicans to another landmine buried in today’s poll: a majority say if a path to citizenship is not ultimately enacted, they would blame House Republicans.

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There are two ways to look at the immigration section of the latest Washington Post/ABC News poll, neither of which is particularly encouraging. Pessimists will note right off the bat the public’s lack of enthusiasm toward the Senate immigration bill: it gets barely a plurality, but not majority, support from voters. Those who “strongly” oppose the plan outnumber those who “strongly” support it. There was lukewarm support for a path to citizenship. And only 32 percent want an up-or-down vote on the Senate bill to take place in the House.

But there is something of a silver lining. Although just a third want a House vote on the Senate bill, that’s not because respondents wanted the issue to be shunted aside: only two percent want no consideration of immigration reform by the House at all. A majority, in fact, approve of House Speaker John Boehner’s approach, which entails breaking up the bill and considering various pieces of the reform effort as standalone bills. There is, however, a major problem with this strategy, which I wrote about the last time it was floated.

Republicans are wary of a path to citizenship for immigrants currently in the country illegally. And a piecemeal approach taken by the GOP-controlled House is unlikely to address the aspects of the reform effort that aren’t popular with conservatives, the path to citizenship among them. But Democrats control the Senate and will not vote to pass anything that doesn’t offer a path to citizenship. Republicans can play chicken with the Senate Democrats and pass sensible pieces of legislation and dare the Democrats not to support them. But that brings Republicans to another landmine buried in today’s poll: a majority say if a path to citizenship is not ultimately enacted, they would blame House Republicans.

If it feels like we’re going around in circles on immigration reform, that’s because we are. Democrats have a public relations advantage they will press until their demand (a path to citizenship) is met. Most conservatives don’t like granting illegal immigrants a path to citizenship. The polls haven’t altered this political reality, and no developments have cleared the impasse.

The latest poll has, however, illuminated one other obstacle to immigration reform: ObamaCare. One concern about a path to citizenship has been the cost of entitlements to new immigrants. But even if you deny provisional immigrants access to ObamaCare’s benefits, the cost is not the only, or even the primary, concern with regard to ObamaCare. The Washington Examiner’s Conn Carroll pointed to this two weeks ago with a post titled “Immigration reform is dead and Obamacare implementation killed it.” The operative word there is implementation.

The more the public hears about the train-wreck rollout of ObamaCare, the less appetizing yet another legislative behemoth seems. The ObamaCare rollout has been dispiriting both to those who once believed the federal government could handle a massive reform effort and those–especially Republicans–who assumed the president would even follow his own law rather than unilaterally suspending the parts that would have been a drag on his party’s fortunes in the upcoming midterm congressional elections, as he did with the temporary suspension of the employer mandate.

That makes it easier to understand some of the seeming contradictions in the Post’s poll results. For example, if 46 percent of respondents support the immigration bill as passed by the Senate, why would only 32 percent want a vote on it in the House, with majority support for the piecemeal approach? Perhaps a clue can be found in the health care section of the same poll, in which 49 percent of respondents said they oppose ObamaCare (to 42 percent who support it) and, more tellingly, 48 percent said the employer mandate delay “means that the overall health care law is so flawed it should be dropped.” The other response, that the mandate delay “is just something that happens when changes are made in a complex system,” garnered 46 percent.

With regard to immigration reform, that 46 percent isn’t so encouraging. That means almost half the country expects massive government reform efforts to be unworkable or economically unsustainable without immediate (and possibly unlawful) changes on the fly at the outset of its implementation. The other half of the country wants the whole reform erased from the books. It’s unsurprising, then, that they get cold feet when confronted with yet another major federal overhaul, even if they are sympathetic to its intentions.

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The GOP’s Deep Hole

I spent the last week in Washington State and had several conversations with people about the Republican Party. What I discovered wasn’t encouraging for the Grand Old Party.  

The people I spoke to are life-long Republican voters, but to a person they were deeply disappointed with the GOP. When I pressed them on why, I heard different, and even competing, explanations. Some thought the Republican Party was too beholden to the Tea Party and too rigid on social issues. They were concerned the GOP was coming across as obstructionist and taking a suicidal position on immigration (by coming across as anti-immigration). Others believed the GOP was too moderate and conciliatory, that they were not Tea Party enough, and that they were taking a suicidal position on immigration (by embracing a path to citizenship for illegal immigrants). Their level of unhappiness with the Republican Party was roughly the same—but for entirely different reasons.

Here’s where things get interesting. I decided to do my best Reince Priebus imitation, addressing as specifically and carefully as I could each of the objections that were raised. My interlocutors were often willing to concede the points I made. Yet their negative attitude toward the GOP remained. 

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I spent the last week in Washington State and had several conversations with people about the Republican Party. What I discovered wasn’t encouraging for the Grand Old Party.  

The people I spoke to are life-long Republican voters, but to a person they were deeply disappointed with the GOP. When I pressed them on why, I heard different, and even competing, explanations. Some thought the Republican Party was too beholden to the Tea Party and too rigid on social issues. They were concerned the GOP was coming across as obstructionist and taking a suicidal position on immigration (by coming across as anti-immigration). Others believed the GOP was too moderate and conciliatory, that they were not Tea Party enough, and that they were taking a suicidal position on immigration (by embracing a path to citizenship for illegal immigrants). Their level of unhappiness with the Republican Party was roughly the same—but for entirely different reasons.

Here’s where things get interesting. I decided to do my best Reince Priebus imitation, addressing as specifically and carefully as I could each of the objections that were raised. My interlocutors were often willing to concede the points I made. Yet their negative attitude toward the GOP remained. 

As one person pointed out to me after our conversation, the mood was based less on the policy stands of the Republican Party, less on substance, and more on emotion. What has happened, as best as I can tell, is that the reelection of Barack Obama, as well as Democratic gains in the Senate, had a shattering effect on the confidence many Republicans have in the GOP. Their view seems to be that if the Republican Party couldn’t defeat a failed president like Obama or make gains in the Senate in a year that should have favored Republicans, it is manifestly inept. The disappointment in Obama’s victory has turned people who were once highly engaged in politics away from it, even now, nine months after the election. Call it a long post-election hangover. 

This kind of reaction isn’t unusual for a party that lost a presidential election it expected to win, though my sense is the unhappiness and despair runs deeper among Republicans than in the past. Some of this will fade away with time. The president is off to a very rough start in his second term, after all, and Republicans might be re-energized enough, and Democrats despondent enough, that the GOP makes significant gains in the 2014 mid-term elections. But I came away from my trip with a sense that the Republican Party has very deep problems with its own supporters, many of them based on perception more than reality, and it will require politicians with some fairly impressive political talents to revive the party to a dominant position in American politics. It’s a very long way from that right now.

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GOP’s Mixed Signals on Immigration

Earlier this week, John Stanton wrote a detailed piece on why Republicans in the House who vote for comprehensive immigration reform are not actually putting themselves at high risk of getting challenged in a Republican primary. Then National Journal released the results of its latest poll, which showed that Republicans support passing immigration reform that includes a path to citizenship as long as it toughens border security, backing up Stanton’s reporting.

But then Politico published a story on Marco Rubio’s immigration “stumbles,” arguing that even though the bill passed the Senate, conservative anger over the bill means that “this isn’t where Rubio wanted to be.” They, too, can point to new polling to back them up: the latest Washington Post/ABC poll finds a majority of Republicans oppose a path to citizenship for those here illegally. I sympathize with the Post’s Greg Sargent when he writes today of the conventional wisdom that conservative voters oppose a path to citizenship and asks, “Can’t some crack polling guru type get to the bottom of whether it’s even true or not?”

If we work backwards, however, it’s a bit easier to get to the bottom of this. The general sense of momentum is currently against the immigration bill, at least as passed by the Senate. But Stanton’s reporting is heavily documented, and the National Journal poll gives respondents enough choices to get a reasonably accurate read on where they’d like the bill to go from here. So what we’re looking for is an explanation for why there can be broad support for the aims of the bill that still puts Rubio in a difficult spot and which supports the idea that the bill is in trouble.

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Earlier this week, John Stanton wrote a detailed piece on why Republicans in the House who vote for comprehensive immigration reform are not actually putting themselves at high risk of getting challenged in a Republican primary. Then National Journal released the results of its latest poll, which showed that Republicans support passing immigration reform that includes a path to citizenship as long as it toughens border security, backing up Stanton’s reporting.

But then Politico published a story on Marco Rubio’s immigration “stumbles,” arguing that even though the bill passed the Senate, conservative anger over the bill means that “this isn’t where Rubio wanted to be.” They, too, can point to new polling to back them up: the latest Washington Post/ABC poll finds a majority of Republicans oppose a path to citizenship for those here illegally. I sympathize with the Post’s Greg Sargent when he writes today of the conventional wisdom that conservative voters oppose a path to citizenship and asks, “Can’t some crack polling guru type get to the bottom of whether it’s even true or not?”

If we work backwards, however, it’s a bit easier to get to the bottom of this. The general sense of momentum is currently against the immigration bill, at least as passed by the Senate. But Stanton’s reporting is heavily documented, and the National Journal poll gives respondents enough choices to get a reasonably accurate read on where they’d like the bill to go from here. So what we’re looking for is an explanation for why there can be broad support for the aims of the bill that still puts Rubio in a difficult spot and which supports the idea that the bill is in trouble.

The answer, I think, has a lot to do with the 2012 Republican primary election and the downfall of Rick Perry. Though Perry’s debate performances obviously had much to do with his freefall in the polls, the issue that hurt him the most was immigration. I think it goes too far to credit Perry’s pro-immigration stance solely or even mostly for his primary woes—Newt Gingrich, after all, took an almost identical position on immigration and it didn’t slow him down—but there’s no question it was a major factor. The pushback Perry got for telling voters to “have a heart” when dealing with illegal immigrants and their children inspired Mitt Romney to bolt to his right on the issue and make his infamous suggestion that illegal immigrants “self-deport.”

Most Republicans learned a lesson from that incident—but they didn’t all learn the same lesson. Republicans who were inclined to support immigration reform believed Romney’s self-deportation idea was the inevitable result of trying to square a circle: the status quo on immigration policy in America is a wreck, but if you want to pander to border hawks without ludicrously advocating for the deportation of 11 million immigrants, your policy essentially amounts to wishing the problem away. And expressing the sentiment that you want those immigrants to somehow disappear while also not offering a realistic solution to the immigration impasse is a surefire way to get clobbered in a national election among immigrant groups, which Romney did.

But those more inclined to believe a bipartisan immigration reform plan would simply amount to a mass amnesty without alleviating the conditions that brought the crisis about in the first place learned a very different lesson. They saw Perry’s collapse in the polls following his immigration remarks as proof that Republican voters by and large had rejected the McCain-led reform effort a few years earlier and were plain fed-up with the fact that they were now being called heartless for simply not changing their minds.

The message they heard was: What part of “No” don’t you understand? And though early-state Republican primary voters are not usually thought to be representative of all right-of-center Americans (it’s become more of a tradition to complain about the Iowa straw poll and caucuses than to treat them as a bellwether), the presidential candidates drive the news more than other politicians, and they drive the perception of the party as well.

That’s why it was so significant for Rubio to lead the reform effort, and why he tried to get Rand Paul to sign on. The current zeitgeist of the party’s grass roots is not going to be divined by listening to where Lindsey Graham or Steve King stands on an issue. The public is always going to pay more attention to the politicians who may be their next president—or at least a major party nominee. Rubio may support this bill, but Ted Cruz voted against it, as did Rand Paul. Bobby Jindal may be sympathetic to the cause of immigration reform, but he came out against the Senate bill too. Both Scott Walker and Chris Christie seemed reluctant to specifically endorse the Senate bill.

What you have, then, is Marco Rubio supporting his own bill—and pretty much everyone else on the 2016 slate, on both sides of the immigration debate, treating Rubio’s bill as if it were radioactive. It’s not surprising that different polls received conflicting answers depending on the wording of the poll question, but neither is it surprising that when it comes to prominent prospective GOP presidential candidates, Rubio has essentially been left to stand alone, and the public has noticed.

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The GOP’s Immigration Crackup

Given how many accounts have been published of yesterday’s closed door meeting of the House Republican Caucus to talk about immigration reform, it might have saved everyone a great deal of time if House Speaker John Boehner had just invited C-Span to televise it live (the cable news networks would have been too busy broadcasting the George Zimmerman murder trial). Piecing together all of the various reports, we know that Boehner warned his members of the price of inaction on the issue. But we also know that a large portion of the House GOP is inclined to do just that even if they are floating ideas about passing seven or eight different bills on the subject that will address various elements of the problem, though none are likely to address the question of what to do with the 11 million illegal immigrants already here.

Though Boehner and, even more importantly, Rep. Paul Ryan, would like to cajole the caucus into putting forward some coherent response to the bipartisan compromise bill passed by the Senate, it’s growing increasingly clear that the speaker’s warnings are going to go unheeded. Too many House members have come to the conclusion that an influential portion of their grass roots constituency won’t tolerate anything done on immigration other than the militarization of the border with Mexico that was part of the Senate’s gang of eight deal. Cheered on by some of conservatism’s leading lights such as the Weekly Standard’s William Kristol and the National Review’s Rich Lowry, the consensus of most political observers is that it appears to be that the nothing option is exactly what will happen. Since, as has been pointed out continuously, most Republican House members run in districts where they don’t have to listen to anyone but fellow conservatives, few have any inclination to act in a manner that is consistent with their party’s best long-term interests, let alone doing the right thing about immigration.

While I think the doomsayers about passage of any reform bill are probably right, there’s a small chance the House can somehow cobble together something that can be called immigration reform in the form of a package of bills that might address border security, deal with the reality of illegal immigrants and rework the law in a way that would encourage legal immigration that is essential for the continued growth of our economy. But for that to happen, it would require the House GOP to start listening to the counsel being offered to them by Boehner and Ryan. Right now, that looks like too heavy a lift for either the speaker or the influential House budget chair. Like a train wreck that can’t be stopped, the GOP immigration crackup seems inevitable.

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Given how many accounts have been published of yesterday’s closed door meeting of the House Republican Caucus to talk about immigration reform, it might have saved everyone a great deal of time if House Speaker John Boehner had just invited C-Span to televise it live (the cable news networks would have been too busy broadcasting the George Zimmerman murder trial). Piecing together all of the various reports, we know that Boehner warned his members of the price of inaction on the issue. But we also know that a large portion of the House GOP is inclined to do just that even if they are floating ideas about passing seven or eight different bills on the subject that will address various elements of the problem, though none are likely to address the question of what to do with the 11 million illegal immigrants already here.

Though Boehner and, even more importantly, Rep. Paul Ryan, would like to cajole the caucus into putting forward some coherent response to the bipartisan compromise bill passed by the Senate, it’s growing increasingly clear that the speaker’s warnings are going to go unheeded. Too many House members have come to the conclusion that an influential portion of their grass roots constituency won’t tolerate anything done on immigration other than the militarization of the border with Mexico that was part of the Senate’s gang of eight deal. Cheered on by some of conservatism’s leading lights such as the Weekly Standard’s William Kristol and the National Review’s Rich Lowry, the consensus of most political observers is that it appears to be that the nothing option is exactly what will happen. Since, as has been pointed out continuously, most Republican House members run in districts where they don’t have to listen to anyone but fellow conservatives, few have any inclination to act in a manner that is consistent with their party’s best long-term interests, let alone doing the right thing about immigration.

While I think the doomsayers about passage of any reform bill are probably right, there’s a small chance the House can somehow cobble together something that can be called immigration reform in the form of a package of bills that might address border security, deal with the reality of illegal immigrants and rework the law in a way that would encourage legal immigration that is essential for the continued growth of our economy. But for that to happen, it would require the House GOP to start listening to the counsel being offered to them by Boehner and Ryan. Right now, that looks like too heavy a lift for either the speaker or the influential House budget chair. Like a train wreck that can’t be stopped, the GOP immigration crackup seems inevitable.

It is unfortunate that so much of the discussion about the need for Republicans to pass immigration reform has centered on the supposed political advantages that will accrue to them if they do it. Critics of the gang of eight bill are right when they say its passage won’t guarantee Republicans a larger share of the Hispanic vote in 2016. But the problem is not so much whether Hispanics can be enticed to become GOP voters as it is the spectacle of a Republican Party that seems willing to fall over itself in order to pander to people who are openly hostile to immigration or any form of legalization for the 11 million people who are already here and aren’t going to be deported.

While Kristol and Lowry in their well argued manifesto against the reform bill claim that the current debate has been notable for the absence of “hostility to immigrants” that characterized so much of the arguments that shot down President Bush’s attempt to reform immigration, I think they are not listening much to talk radio or reading the comments sections of newspapers and magazines that report on the issue. Kristol and Lowry claim, “you can be pro-immigrant and pro-immigration, and even favor legalization of the 11 million illegal immigrants who are here and increases in some categories of legal immigration—and vigorously oppose this bill.” While I think that is undoubtedly true about that formidable pair of conservative editors, the same cannot be said for many of those who agree with them that “nothing” would be better than passing the legislation.

While they and other critics of the bill have attempted to pose the question as a no-confidence vote in the Obama administration’s trustworthiness, the idea that any fix to immigration must wait until a Republican is elected president doesn’t strike me as a particularly effective argument on policy. If the legalization-first element is what is really bothering some conservatives, then they can craft a bill that would reverse the order of some of its provisions. But what they seem to be saying is that any measure that cannot guarantee a hermetically sealed border or magically prevent those who come here legally but then overstay their visas from doing so is unacceptable. That, like Mitt Romney’s infamous “self-deportation” idea, is not a serious position.

Nor am I convinced that it is now a core conservative principle that any large compromise bill on any measure must be stopped. Liberals who have pointed out that conservatives were ready to make compromises of all sorts to defend policy measures that were important to them in the past, like tax cuts, are right. Unless we are to adopt a parliamentary style of government in which the majority can more or less pass anything they like so long as the whip is out without the constitutional checks and balances of our system, compromises on big issues are always going to be necessary. Any idea that passage of separate House bills that are not necessarily compatible with each other, let alone capable of Senate passage, is a rational plan is daft.

But those House members who appear determined to ignore the pleadings of Boehner and Ryan are not so much being influenced by the intellectual arguments mustered by Kristol and Lowry as they are the fear of offending those who think any solution to the 11 million illegals that offers legalization and/or citizenship is an offense to the rule of law or a threat to the future of the culture of the nation. Kristol and Lowry don’t use the word “amnesty” to characterize the gang’s bill, but most opponents of the bill do. The fixation on punishing or getting rid of the present population of illegals leaves the impression that malice is driving the discussion. So long as conservatives are heard to argue that the bill is a formula for the creation of more Democratic voters or a plot by the Obama administration to permanently marginalize the GOP, Hispanics and many other Americans are likely to interpret opposition to reform as an appeal to nativist sentiment, not a policy prescription.

I think Kristol and Lowry are wrong about the urgency of the matter not so much because we can’t live with a long-broken system for another few years but because the longer so many Republicans give the country the impression that they fear immigration—legal or illegal—they will be harming their image in a manner that will go beyond the putative impact on the Hispanic vote.

A lot of leading conservatives seem to think that they can’t survive if they oppose the net roots on this issue, and perhaps there is some truth to that. Boehner would probably lose his speakership if he allows a vote on the reform bill or anything like it that is produced in the House. It’s also possible that getting labeled as RINOs or establishment cat’s-paws will damage individuals and institutions that agree with conservatives like Ryan, George W. Bush and Marco Rubio that an immigration compromise is the right thing to do as well as good politics for the GOP. But the failure to deal with this issue will do conservatism far more harm in the long run than those who believe it can wait until a Republican president or Senate arrives in Washington think. If the GOP listens to the naysayers, it may be a long wait before either of those outcomes arrives.

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A Clash of Conventional Wisdom on Immigration Reform

Today’s Politico story on the expected slow death of immigration reform in the House is getting a lot of attention. Anti-immigration conservatives have been complaining that the conventional wisdom is that bipartisan immigration reform will pass. The Washington Examiner reports on a Monday meeting of House immigration reform opponents, who are “worried that immigration reform is inevitable,” according to one member of the group. “We believe we’re paddling upstream against a bipartisan current.”

The purpose of the Politico story, on the other hand, is to reverse the conventional wisdom. What’s interesting about the two stories is that they depict the anti-immigration reform caucus as being of two minds, because they are the source of the doom-and-gloom fatalists and confident triumphalists simultaneously. They are, of course, not necessarily the same legislators, but they also don’t seem to be talking to each other. While they complain to the Examiner that immigration reform may be inevitable, here’s how Politico reports their mindset:

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Today’s Politico story on the expected slow death of immigration reform in the House is getting a lot of attention. Anti-immigration conservatives have been complaining that the conventional wisdom is that bipartisan immigration reform will pass. The Washington Examiner reports on a Monday meeting of House immigration reform opponents, who are “worried that immigration reform is inevitable,” according to one member of the group. “We believe we’re paddling upstream against a bipartisan current.”

The purpose of the Politico story, on the other hand, is to reverse the conventional wisdom. What’s interesting about the two stories is that they depict the anti-immigration reform caucus as being of two minds, because they are the source of the doom-and-gloom fatalists and confident triumphalists simultaneously. They are, of course, not necessarily the same legislators, but they also don’t seem to be talking to each other. While they complain to the Examiner that immigration reform may be inevitable, here’s how Politico reports their mindset:

In private conversations, top Republicans on Capitol Hill now predict comprehensive immigration reform will die a slow, months-long death in the House. Like with background checks for gun buyers, the conventional wisdom that the party would never kill immigration reform, and risk further alienating Hispanic voters, was always wrong — and ignored the reality that most House Republicans are white conservatives representing mostly white districts.

These members, and the vast majority of their voters, couldn’t care less whether Marco Rubio, Bill O’Reilly and Karl Rove say this is smart politics and policy.

Republican leaders will huddle with their members Wednesday afternoon to plot their public strategy. But after holding countless listening sessions, it is clear to these leaders that getting even smaller, popular pieces of reform will be a tough sell. The House plans a piecemeal approach: a border-security bill this month, maybe one or two items a month in the fall.

The weakness of a piecemeal approach is that the United States has both an illegal immigration problem and a legal immigration problem. There are numerous security concerns along the border and with regard to visa overstayers to support those who argue for a secure border and a functioning verification program. But the market (that thing to which Republicans often attribute wisdom) wants more immigrant labor, and those laborers quite reasonably want at least a path to citizenship.

The reason border hawks sense bipartisan momentum for immigration reform is because such momentum exists, and it exists for a logical reason: Republicans tend to focus on fixing one half of the system while Democrats focus on the other. Neither party will vote for a final bill that excludes (or waters down) its priorities. We currently have divided government: one house of Congress is controlled by the GOP, the other by the Democrats. Hence, a bipartisan bill is the only one that could conceivably get through both chambers.

But the Politico story hits the nail on the head as to why this seemingly logical way of looking at the reform effort is flawed: the two parties may often seem to be uniform ideological vehicles, but they are still made up of politicians representing certain geographical districts of the country. It’s less about conservatives versus liberals, then, and more about the reality of congressional electoral politics.

And while that presents certain obstacles to passing reform, those politicians broadly believe it presents certain opportunities as well. The respective party leaderships say that nothing that ignores their red line demand will pass, but members of Congress are itching to test their resolve on that front. Today the Wall Street Journal editorializes that fixing part of the immigration system is better than fixing none of it. If Democrats threaten to vote against anything that isn’t the Senate bill, “Let them,” the Journal argues:

If Silicon Valley Democrats want to vote against high-tech visas, that’s their choice. If the Hispanic caucus wants to vote down the Dream Act and more farm workers, then so be it. Democrats can then take responsibility if these measures fail.

The Journal is right about the virtues of the Dream Act and more visas for industries that need workers with certain skills. But Democrats no doubt would be happy to play this game. Harry Reid doesn’t have to let a House bill see the light of day in the Senate, especially because the Senate already passed its version of immigration reform–with major Republican votes.

Thus Republicans would certainly take the blame for the failure of immigration reform. The media will duly play along to paint the GOP as not just obstructionist and uncooperative but racist. It’s a PR battle that the GOP will almost certainly lose, even if that’s unfair: Democrats’ unwillingness to take border enforcement seriously enough to get Republican votes would unnecessarily contribute to the failure of the reform effort. But it seems fairly clear that, ultimately, only a comprehensive bill can clear Congress.

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Bush Versus the Right on Immigration

It is to be expected that former President George W. Bush’s statement endorsing the immigration reform bill recently passed by the Senate won’t have much impact on the activists urging House Republicans to trash the legislation. The Tea Party movement that grew up in the years after Bush left office was, to no small degree, a reaction to the way the party seemed to crash and burn in the final years of his presidency. The consensus among many in the grass roots was that Bush and many congressional Republicans lost their way in the last decade, becoming advocates for big government in a way that undermined the GOP’s principles while also demonstrating no aptitude for governing.

The party’s resurgence of 2010 was driven by a new brand of Tea Party Republicanism that rejected the supposed legacy of Bush’s tax-and-spend policies almost as much as it did those of President Obama. But just as polls show that the country is reassessing its negative views of the Bush presidency, so, too, should Republicans who believed that kicking the 43rd president to the curb was essential to ensuring their future.

It is in that context that conservative activists should listen to Bush’s terse advice and remember that their views about immigration policy should be separated from the tendency of many on the right to oppose anything endorsed by Obama. Rather than dismissing Bush as a relic of an era of big government Republicanism, they should remember that for all of his faults and the mistakes made during his administration, the last GOP candidate to win the presidency was someone who had a better grasp of the sentiments of middle America than most of those conservatives currently claiming to represent its interests.

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It is to be expected that former President George W. Bush’s statement endorsing the immigration reform bill recently passed by the Senate won’t have much impact on the activists urging House Republicans to trash the legislation. The Tea Party movement that grew up in the years after Bush left office was, to no small degree, a reaction to the way the party seemed to crash and burn in the final years of his presidency. The consensus among many in the grass roots was that Bush and many congressional Republicans lost their way in the last decade, becoming advocates for big government in a way that undermined the GOP’s principles while also demonstrating no aptitude for governing.

The party’s resurgence of 2010 was driven by a new brand of Tea Party Republicanism that rejected the supposed legacy of Bush’s tax-and-spend policies almost as much as it did those of President Obama. But just as polls show that the country is reassessing its negative views of the Bush presidency, so, too, should Republicans who believed that kicking the 43rd president to the curb was essential to ensuring their future.

It is in that context that conservative activists should listen to Bush’s terse advice and remember that their views about immigration policy should be separated from the tendency of many on the right to oppose anything endorsed by Obama. Rather than dismissing Bush as a relic of an era of big government Republicanism, they should remember that for all of his faults and the mistakes made during his administration, the last GOP candidate to win the presidency was someone who had a better grasp of the sentiments of middle America than most of those conservatives currently claiming to represent its interests.

As Bush noted in the interview with ABC News this past weekend, the debate on the right about whether the immigration bill will improve the prospects of the Republicans among Hispanics is beside the point. “Good policy yields good politics, as far as I’m concerned,” Bush said.

Tea Partiers have lambasted the idea of “compassionate conservatism” that Bush ran on in 2000 and 2004 as a failed experiment in which the GOP sought to outdo the Democrats when it came to distributing goodies to the voters. To some extent that critique is right. The expansion of Medicare that provided free prescription drug benefits passed by a GOP Congress and signed by Bush was a fiscal disaster and is rightly cited by conservatives as an example of how the “compassionate conservatives” drove the party into a ditch. But that doesn’t mean that every aspect of Bush’s attempt to reposition the party as one that represented the center as well as the right was incorrect. His spirit of openness—exemplified by his support of immigration reform—was integral to his electoral success and his ability to lead until war weariness and a fiscal collapse (that was brought on by a housing bubble created by Democratic policies as much as those of the GOP) derailed his presidency.

Much of the debate over the immigration bill this summer will focus on its strengths and weaknesses, but the real issue isn’t so much the details as whether Republicans have lost faith in the idea that, as Bush said, “I think it’s very important to fix a broken system, to treat people with respect. And have confidence in our capacity to assimilate people.”

Strip away a lot of the sophistry and misleading statistics that are put forward by some of the bill’s critics and what you see is a basic lack of confidence in that capacity and a lack of faith in the country’s future as its population changes. The nativist tone of many of the arguments used against the bill isn’t just a function of that lamentable tendency on the part of some on the right to deplore and to futilely attempt to halt the rise in the Hispanic population as it is a desire to keep out foreigners who wish to work in the United States. That is, as Peter Wehner noted earlier today, not just wrong but completely contrary to the spirit of Republicanism as articulated by its iconic leaders Abraham Lincoln and Ronald Reagan.

The assumption on the part of many on the right is that Bush is ancient history and should be ignored. Though the president’s mother, former First Lady Barbara Bush, was right when she said, “we’ve had enough Bushes” in the White House, Republicans do need to remember that they will never grow their party or win back the White House by allowing isolationism or nativism to dominate their thinking.

As one conservative critic wrote at National Review Online today, immigration has been an issue since 1789, but while he was right about that what he failed to point out is that those who hitch their wagon to the Know Nothing strain of our political tradition always lose in the end.

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The GOP Is More Serious Than Sarah Palin

In a recent interview, former Alaska governor and GOP vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin indicated she was open to leaving the GOP and starting a third party. After expressing her enthusiasm for the name “The Freedom Party,” Palin went on to say this: 

If the GOP continues to back away from the planks in our platform, from the principles that built this party of Lincoln and of Reagan, then yeah, more and more of us are gonna start saying, “You know, what’s wrong with being an independent?” Kind of, with that libertarian streak that much of us have. In other words, we want government to back off and not infringe upon our rights. I think there will be a lot of us who start saying, “GOP, if you abandon us, what–we have nowhere else to go except to become more independent and not enlisted in a, one or the other of the private majority parties that rule in our nation — either a Democrat or a Republican.” Remember these are private parties. And no one forces us to be enlisted in either party.

Let’s begin with this observation: Ms. Palin is a fierce opponent of immigration reform, and any openness by the Republican leadership in the House would move her a good deal closer to abandoning the GOP. Which of course makes her reference to both Lincoln and Reagan odd, since Reagan was an advocate of amnesty and as president granted it to millions of illegal immigrants (“I believe in the idea of amnesty for those who have put down roots and have lived here even though sometime back they may have entered illegally,” Reagan said in his 1984 debate with Walter Mondale). 

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In a recent interview, former Alaska governor and GOP vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin indicated she was open to leaving the GOP and starting a third party. After expressing her enthusiasm for the name “The Freedom Party,” Palin went on to say this: 

If the GOP continues to back away from the planks in our platform, from the principles that built this party of Lincoln and of Reagan, then yeah, more and more of us are gonna start saying, “You know, what’s wrong with being an independent?” Kind of, with that libertarian streak that much of us have. In other words, we want government to back off and not infringe upon our rights. I think there will be a lot of us who start saying, “GOP, if you abandon us, what–we have nowhere else to go except to become more independent and not enlisted in a, one or the other of the private majority parties that rule in our nation — either a Democrat or a Republican.” Remember these are private parties. And no one forces us to be enlisted in either party.

Let’s begin with this observation: Ms. Palin is a fierce opponent of immigration reform, and any openness by the Republican leadership in the House would move her a good deal closer to abandoning the GOP. Which of course makes her reference to both Lincoln and Reagan odd, since Reagan was an advocate of amnesty and as president granted it to millions of illegal immigrants (“I believe in the idea of amnesty for those who have put down roots and have lived here even though sometime back they may have entered illegally,” Reagan said in his 1984 debate with Walter Mondale). 

As for Lincoln, in a new biography on him, Rich Lowry points out that “Lincoln was broadly pro-immigration… Clearly, Lincoln’s default position today would be generosity toward immigrants. The effectively permanent status as second-class citizens of millions of illegal immigrants would be anathema to him.” In their tone and substantive approach to legal and illegal immigration, then, people like Marco Rubio and Jeb Bush are far closer to Reagan and Lincoln than Ms. Palin is.

And what about the broader indictment by Palin, which is that the GOP is moving away from its principles and becoming a less conservative party? That charge–shared by some others on the right–strikes me as rather wide of the mark. After all, in many respects the GOP is becoming more amenable to her brand of Tea Party conservatism than it was in and prior to 2008–when Palin was a proud Republican and the party’s vice presidential pick.

For example, a smaller percentage of GOP senators voted for immigration reform last month than was the case in 2006. Representative Paul Ryan has on several occasions now presented a very serious plan to re-limit government and reform entitlements, especially Medicare–and in doing so he has gone far beyond anything that Ronald Reagan ever proposed. And to the astonishment of many, Ryan secured the support of virtually the entire Republican House. In addition, the GOP has uniformly opposed higher taxes. (Compare this once again to Reagan, who in 1982 signed what at the time was the largest tax increase in American history.) In fact, congressional Republicans have consistently been pushing for tax cuts. They accepted sequester cuts earlier this year, when many on the right predicted they would buckle. House and Senate Republicans have also opposed, almost to a person, the Affordable Care Act, and pushed for its repeal. Republicans voted en masse against the 2009 stimulus package. The GOP remains staunchly pro-life. It has opposed the president’s gun control and climate change agenda. And many Republicans have backed away from a larger federal role in education. Then there are Republican governors, current and recent, many of whom are conservative, successful and reform-oriented. 

Let’s stipulate that no party is perfect, that different currents exist within political parties, and that key figures within them will act in ways with which we disagree. The GOP certainly isn’t fully abiding by my recommendations. That said, where precisely is this great abandonment of principle we’re supposedly seeing? The GOP is in many ways a more conservative party today than it was during the Reagan years.

Several things are happening, I think. One is that some elements within the GOP base are in an agitated mood, spoiling for a fight, eager to make themselves look principled by constantly asserting the GOP is unprincipled. It’s similar to a quarrelsome marriage; every word one spouse says is interpreted in the worst possible light by the other. Sarah Palin and those like her are now disposed to attack the GOP, and perhaps even looking for reasons to break from it. But let’s be clear: It’s being driven by her/their frame of mind, not the heresies of the Republican Party. 

The other thing that is occurring is that Palin and those like her have undergone a fairly dramatic shift in the last few years. One telling example is her reaction to Edward Snowden and the National Security Agency leaks. Palin has gone out of her way to defend Snowden  and asserted that America is “becoming a totalitarian surveillance state.” This is a silly charge–and evidence that Palin has lurched in a much more libertarian direction since she enthusiastically agreed to be John McCain’s running mate in 2008.

It may also be that Palin, having quit after serving less than one term as governor, is simply not very serious about, or even all that interested in, governing. She does seem better suited to compose tweets and star in reality shows than to carry out the duties of governing.

But Ms. Palin is right about this: No one forces us to be enlisted in either party. She is free to leave the GOP at any time, for any reason. And there may be more than a few Republicans who hope she will, if only so that they do not have to spend any more time explaining to the rest of the world why the GOP, for all its shortcomings, is far more serious than Sarah Palin.

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History, Not Hispanics Will Judge GOP

The approval by the Senate yesterday of the immigration reform bill is, as most observers are rightly noting, less a victory for its advocates than a prelude to a defeat. After struggling mightily to garner 68 votes in the Senate, the gang of eight must come to grips with the fact that only 15 Republicans (including four of the original sponsors) voted for the bill. Though the yes votes, comprising more than two-thirds of the Senate, represented an impressive bipartisan coalition the prospects of passage in the Republican-controlled House of Representatives are slim if not entirely non-existent. The ability of anti-reform forces to rally much of the GOP grass roots to oppose the reform proposal as “amnesty” or a fraudulent attempt to bolster border security has entirely intimidated the House leadership and much of the party. Though some supporters of the idea, such as Rep. Paul Ryan, are vowing to bring forward a version of reform that might conceivably be meshed with the Senate bill in a conference, passage of any compromise that might conceivably satisfy either party seems unlikely.

The defeat of immigration reform will, if it happens, set off a new round of public soul searching and blame-assigning on the part of Republicans and their critics. The end of this attempt, which many thought might address the GOP’s growing problems with the fastest growing sector of voters—Hispanics—will be seen by some as a dismal follow-up to last November’s electoral debacle. By contrast, some conservatives will act as if the entire problem is a figment of the imagination of the dreaded party establishment. But I think too much of the discussion about this issue has centered on the implications of whether it will help Republicans win elections and not enough effort has been made to place it in historical perspective. Though we have treated this debate as if it were an entirely new issue in American politics whose only antecedent is the 1986 bill that is widely regarded as a failure, arguments about immigration stretch back through American history. The problem for Republicans then is not so much what Hispanics (many of whom are not likely to embrace the GOP anytime soon no matter what it does) think of them as it is what history will say about their apparent decision to squander an opportunity to fix a problem in a way that might accrue to their advantage as well as to align themselves with anti-immigration sentiments that have not exactly aided those who espoused them in the past.

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The approval by the Senate yesterday of the immigration reform bill is, as most observers are rightly noting, less a victory for its advocates than a prelude to a defeat. After struggling mightily to garner 68 votes in the Senate, the gang of eight must come to grips with the fact that only 15 Republicans (including four of the original sponsors) voted for the bill. Though the yes votes, comprising more than two-thirds of the Senate, represented an impressive bipartisan coalition the prospects of passage in the Republican-controlled House of Representatives are slim if not entirely non-existent. The ability of anti-reform forces to rally much of the GOP grass roots to oppose the reform proposal as “amnesty” or a fraudulent attempt to bolster border security has entirely intimidated the House leadership and much of the party. Though some supporters of the idea, such as Rep. Paul Ryan, are vowing to bring forward a version of reform that might conceivably be meshed with the Senate bill in a conference, passage of any compromise that might conceivably satisfy either party seems unlikely.

The defeat of immigration reform will, if it happens, set off a new round of public soul searching and blame-assigning on the part of Republicans and their critics. The end of this attempt, which many thought might address the GOP’s growing problems with the fastest growing sector of voters—Hispanics—will be seen by some as a dismal follow-up to last November’s electoral debacle. By contrast, some conservatives will act as if the entire problem is a figment of the imagination of the dreaded party establishment. But I think too much of the discussion about this issue has centered on the implications of whether it will help Republicans win elections and not enough effort has been made to place it in historical perspective. Though we have treated this debate as if it were an entirely new issue in American politics whose only antecedent is the 1986 bill that is widely regarded as a failure, arguments about immigration stretch back through American history. The problem for Republicans then is not so much what Hispanics (many of whom are not likely to embrace the GOP anytime soon no matter what it does) think of them as it is what history will say about their apparent decision to squander an opportunity to fix a problem in a way that might accrue to their advantage as well as to align themselves with anti-immigration sentiments that have not exactly aided those who espoused them in the past.

The prospect of consigning the gang of eight’s bill to the dustbin of history has led many on the right to use the occasion of the Senate vote to start crowing about their effective veto on any measure that might fix our broken immigration system. They are feeling cocky about the way they have buffaloed much of Congress into branding what was a reasonable compromise as being the embodiment of everything conservatives are supposed to hate. This is in spite of the fact that it combined the most serious attempt to deal with border security with a scheme that would have eventually brought 11 million illegal immigrants out of the shadows. I have yet to hear a coherent response to the question of what conservative principle was at stake in preventing either of these outcomes. But what I have heard from many opponents of the bill is something that is far more troubling than mere disagreement.

If Congress fails to deal with immigration reform in this session it may not, as some have said, necessarily doom the Republican Party to defeats in future elections. Nor need it end the presidential hopes of Senator Marco Rubio, who is being unfairly branded a RINO by the bill’s foes. As John Podhoretz wrote this morning, three years is a lifetime in politics and anything can happen that might boost Rubio to the GOP nomination or to sink the Democrats in 2016. But anyone who thinks the tenor of this debate has not materially affected the ability of the Republican Party to appeal to Hispanics simply hasn’t been paying attention. With so many on the right acting as if their goal was not so much to turn the border with Mexico into the Great Wall of China (something that the Corker-Hoeven amendment to the gang’s bill might well have come close to achieving) but to demonstrate their antipathy for legal immigration and to make sure that those who are here without permission are treated as pariahs rather than offered, as most Americans rightly support, a chance to have their status legalized.

This is a disaster not so much because it alienates Hispanics as because it consigns what appears to be the majority of the House GOP caucus to being remembered as the latest iteration of the Know Nothing tradition of American history. Opponents of the bill will claim this is a slander, but as Peter Wehner rightly noted yesterday, the change in Republican rhetoric about immigration from the open-minded and optimistic tone of Ronald Reagan to the sort of thing we are hearing from the netroots these days should discourage any thinking conservative.

There is still time for the GOP to think twice about killing reform. It is possible for Republicans to pass a bill that does all the things the Senate bill might achieve even if it reverses the order and prioritizes security. But having painted themselves into a rhetorical corner on the issue, it’s not clear that those who have demagogued the issue have the ability to do it. At this point, alienated Hispanics may not care much what Republicans do on the issue the rest of the year, but history will not ignore the opportunity wasted or the unnecessary enemies made by those who may bring about this result.

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GOP’s Self-Defeating Immigration Rhetoric

Republicans seem to truly have a death wish. They know that they have lost the last two presidential elections in no small part because they are losing the support of an ever-growing number of immigrants–primarily Latinos but also Asians. They know that the current immigration system isn’t working–that it has led to the creation of an underclass of 11 million undocumented aliens. But they refuse to pursue any serious reform beyond a desire to erect a Berlin Wall along our Southern border.

The comprehensive immigration bill passed by the Senate on a bipartisan 68 to 32 vote will not solve all of the issues related to immigration, but it is a start toward seriously addressing them. This balanced legislation includes a provision to allow undocumented migrants who have stayed out of legal trouble to become legal residents; a provision to increase spending on border security; a provision to increase the number of H1-B visas issued to highly skilled workers; and a provision to increase the number of low-skilled guest workers who can arrive to work in our farm fields and other areas.

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Republicans seem to truly have a death wish. They know that they have lost the last two presidential elections in no small part because they are losing the support of an ever-growing number of immigrants–primarily Latinos but also Asians. They know that the current immigration system isn’t working–that it has led to the creation of an underclass of 11 million undocumented aliens. But they refuse to pursue any serious reform beyond a desire to erect a Berlin Wall along our Southern border.

The comprehensive immigration bill passed by the Senate on a bipartisan 68 to 32 vote will not solve all of the issues related to immigration, but it is a start toward seriously addressing them. This balanced legislation includes a provision to allow undocumented migrants who have stayed out of legal trouble to become legal residents; a provision to increase spending on border security; a provision to increase the number of H1-B visas issued to highly skilled workers; and a provision to increase the number of low-skilled guest workers who can arrive to work in our farm fields and other areas.

Personally, I think the move to send tens of thousands more Border Patrol agents to the southern border, at an estimated cost of $40 billion over 10 years, is a bit silly; even with those additional agents, it will never be possible to seal off such a long border, and the money would be better spent on our armed forces, which are going to be devastated by a trillion dollars in budget cuts over that time. But while there may be individual complaints about this or that section of the bill, it is remarkable that it managed to win the support of both the Chamber of Commerce and the AFL-CIO. It will help both Silicon Valley and the Central Valley (where much of the nation’s produce comes from).

And now it will be killed in the House where short-sighted Republicans have nothing to offer but a punitive approach to immigration. Seal the border, they say, and send ‘em home. This is sloganeering, not serious policymaking. No one has any actual plan to deport 11 million illegals. As Sen. Marco Rubio has pointed out, we have granted de facto “amnesty” to illegal immigrants right now. That House Republicans are pledged to maintain this status quo can be explained for short-sighted political reasons, as John has noted, but it will ensure the national Republican Party suffers the same long-term fate as the California GOP.

After decades of ascendance, the California Republican Party went into terminal decline after Gov. Pete Wilson embraced an anti-immigrant message with his support of Proposition 187–a punitive measure designed to stop undocumented residents from using public schools, health care, and other essential social services–back in 1994. Other factors certainly contributed to the California party’s downfall, including its insistence on hewing to a hard-line position on social issues, but there is little doubt that its perceived opposition to the growing number of immigrants was a major factor in its growing irrelevancy.

Why House Republicans want to emulate this example I have no idea. But obviously they do.

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Immigration: Everybody Wins (on the Politics)

The Senate’s passage of the immigration-reform bill is a landmark moment … in the history of cynicism, I’m afraid. The bill will now go to the House of Representatives, where it will die, just as the immigration-reform bill of 2006 died there under eerily similar circumstances. The political world has been consumed with the spectacle of the immigration bill for months now, even though from the outset, it was a reasonable bet it would never pass the House and therefore would never become law. So what was the point of all this action, this coverage, this debate?

Truth is, it helps everyone involved that the bill did not pass. Consider, first, the Republican senators who advocated the bill—primarily Marco Rubio of Florida—did so not only because they believe in a more open immigration system but because they live in states where they are obliged as an electoral matter to take serious account of Hispanic populations or whose industries rely heavily on immigration (both legal and illegal). Senators represent the entirety of the states in which they live, and the swing-state-ier their state is, the more they need to be more supple politically than their colleagues from states that are more lopsided in partisan terms. Win or lose, these senators have established a marker of bona fides with the electorates of their states that will make their reelection bids easier—assuming they are not defeated in primaries, of course.

Now consider the Republicans in opposition, both in the House and Senate. This was a gimme to them also. The party’s grass roots went absolutely ballistic over the bill, and so they can show their fealty to the base with a vote against. As for those grass-roots groups, this has been a fundraising bonanza for them, and also a thrilling way to demonstrate their hold over the party. So they too benefit from the defeat of immigration reform.

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The Senate’s passage of the immigration-reform bill is a landmark moment … in the history of cynicism, I’m afraid. The bill will now go to the House of Representatives, where it will die, just as the immigration-reform bill of 2006 died there under eerily similar circumstances. The political world has been consumed with the spectacle of the immigration bill for months now, even though from the outset, it was a reasonable bet it would never pass the House and therefore would never become law. So what was the point of all this action, this coverage, this debate?

Truth is, it helps everyone involved that the bill did not pass. Consider, first, the Republican senators who advocated the bill—primarily Marco Rubio of Florida—did so not only because they believe in a more open immigration system but because they live in states where they are obliged as an electoral matter to take serious account of Hispanic populations or whose industries rely heavily on immigration (both legal and illegal). Senators represent the entirety of the states in which they live, and the swing-state-ier their state is, the more they need to be more supple politically than their colleagues from states that are more lopsided in partisan terms. Win or lose, these senators have established a marker of bona fides with the electorates of their states that will make their reelection bids easier—assuming they are not defeated in primaries, of course.

Now consider the Republicans in opposition, both in the House and Senate. This was a gimme to them also. The party’s grass roots went absolutely ballistic over the bill, and so they can show their fealty to the base with a vote against. As for those grass-roots groups, this has been a fundraising bonanza for them, and also a thrilling way to demonstrate their hold over the party. So they too benefit from the defeat of immigration reform.

And Democrats? They have the best of both worlds. If legislation were to be signed by the president, they were confident it would have benefited their party politically by eventually creating new voters who they think would be in their camp. Failure would mean a new line of attack against Republicans with Hispanics to keep them in line and convinced the GOP is their enemy.

The only person whose political future is muddied by this in big-picture terms is Marco Rubio, whose opponents in the grass roots seem to believe he has made his nomination for the presidency in 2016 impossible. True? Maybe. But probably not. The primaries don’t begin for another 30 months, which is practically an epoch in politics, and a great many things will happen between now and then that will give Rubio a chance to boost his standing with those who dislike him now and will do injury to others the grass roots now seem to love. (Two words: Iran nukes.)

And please recall that the steward of the 2006 plan was one John McCain—who went on to win the GOP nomination in 2008. 

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Today’s Real Reaganites on Immigration

Earlier this month I posted a piece on why I thought long-time conservative activist Phyllis Schlafly was wrong to write off the Hispanic vote. Ms. Schlafly is back at it, this time saying, “They don’t have any Republican inclinations at all. They’re running an illegitimacy rate that’s just about the same as the blacks are.” She went on to say this: 

They come from a country where they have no experience with limited government. And the types of rights we have in the Bill of Rights, they don’t understand that at all, you can’t even talk to them about what the Republican principle is.

Now take two and a half minutes to watch this clip from a 1980 debate between Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush on illegal immigration, Mexico, and the policies they endorse. What you’ll see is that the approach and attitude of Bush and Reagan is profoundly different from what we’re hearing from many conservatives today on immigration. Set aside for a moment the differences in policy, which are significant. What I’m speaking to is a cast of mind, a temperament, a certain spirit of generosity that both Bush and Reagan (blessedly) had–and which has, for many on the right, virtually vanished. If these individuals don’t fully subscribe to the views of Schlafly and Patrick J. Buchanan, they are certainly sympathetic to them. If a Republican today used language remotely similar to what Bush and Reagan did, they would be hooted off many a conservative stage. What makes this even odder is that many of the people who employ the most off-putting rhetoric on immigration either worked in the Reagan administration or consider themselves Reaganites. But on this subject at least, they are more nearly the antithesis of Reagan.

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Earlier this month I posted a piece on why I thought long-time conservative activist Phyllis Schlafly was wrong to write off the Hispanic vote. Ms. Schlafly is back at it, this time saying, “They don’t have any Republican inclinations at all. They’re running an illegitimacy rate that’s just about the same as the blacks are.” She went on to say this: 

They come from a country where they have no experience with limited government. And the types of rights we have in the Bill of Rights, they don’t understand that at all, you can’t even talk to them about what the Republican principle is.

Now take two and a half minutes to watch this clip from a 1980 debate between Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush on illegal immigration, Mexico, and the policies they endorse. What you’ll see is that the approach and attitude of Bush and Reagan is profoundly different from what we’re hearing from many conservatives today on immigration. Set aside for a moment the differences in policy, which are significant. What I’m speaking to is a cast of mind, a temperament, a certain spirit of generosity that both Bush and Reagan (blessedly) had–and which has, for many on the right, virtually vanished. If these individuals don’t fully subscribe to the views of Schlafly and Patrick J. Buchanan, they are certainly sympathetic to them. If a Republican today used language remotely similar to what Bush and Reagan did, they would be hooted off many a conservative stage. What makes this even odder is that many of the people who employ the most off-putting rhetoric on immigration either worked in the Reagan administration or consider themselves Reaganites. But on this subject at least, they are more nearly the antithesis of Reagan.

Now I understand that circumstances have changed, and conservatives are perfectly within their right to say that their attitude toward illegal and legal immigrants today is right and Reagan and Bush’s were wrong. But those conservatives who believe that Reagan, if he were alive today, would be standing with them are massively distorting the Reagan record–both his words and his deeds. 

The Atlantic’s Conor Friedersdorf, whose post alerted me to the Bush-Reagan debate, added this: 

As America has become much more sensitive about the way it speaks about racially charged subjects, the language used by Republican standard bearers on illegal immigration has grown much less sensitive — and that’s happened as the clout of Hispanic voters has risen significantly. That’s a huge problem for Republicans.

It is indeed. And today the real Reaganites on immigration are people like Marco Rubio, Paul Ryan, and Jeb Bush. The fact that they are targeted for such harsh criticism these days tells you a great deal about how much the GOP has moved on this issue; and how long the road back might be.   

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Arizona Gov Declares Border Surge Victory

Most critics of the bipartisan immigration reform bill being debated in the Senate were nonplussed by the latest compromise offered by the gang of eight. The so-called “border surge” proposed by Senators Bob Corker and John Hoeven was panned by many conservative activists, writers and politicians who seemed to be looking for excuses to dismiss the massive commitment to border security as somehow not enough or not a credible plan to deal with the problem of illegal immigration. But one of the main players in the ongoing efforts by conservatives to force the federal government to act to curb illegal immigration has endorsed the measure. Yesterday on Fox News, Arizona Governor Jan Brewer endorsed the gang’s bill and declared it “a victory for Arizona.”

Brewer has been in the cross hairs of liberals like President Obama and Attorney General Eric Holder for her state’s attempt to cope with the flood of illegals that federal apathy had created. Indeed, the state bill she signed into law and then defended in the federal courts that sought to allow law enforcement officers to ask about a crime suspect’s immigration status made her public enemy No. 1 for the left. But while some on the right have been falling over themselves to prove to the GOP grass roots that they won’t agree to any reform of our immigration laws that allows a path to citizenship, Brewer made it clear that the bipartisan measures satisfied her well known objections to existing federal policy on illegals. It remains to be seen how much influence Brewer’s decision will have on Congress, but this is a clear blow to the campaign being waged on the right to pressure Republicans to block the immigration bill.

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Most critics of the bipartisan immigration reform bill being debated in the Senate were nonplussed by the latest compromise offered by the gang of eight. The so-called “border surge” proposed by Senators Bob Corker and John Hoeven was panned by many conservative activists, writers and politicians who seemed to be looking for excuses to dismiss the massive commitment to border security as somehow not enough or not a credible plan to deal with the problem of illegal immigration. But one of the main players in the ongoing efforts by conservatives to force the federal government to act to curb illegal immigration has endorsed the measure. Yesterday on Fox News, Arizona Governor Jan Brewer endorsed the gang’s bill and declared it “a victory for Arizona.”

Brewer has been in the cross hairs of liberals like President Obama and Attorney General Eric Holder for her state’s attempt to cope with the flood of illegals that federal apathy had created. Indeed, the state bill she signed into law and then defended in the federal courts that sought to allow law enforcement officers to ask about a crime suspect’s immigration status made her public enemy No. 1 for the left. But while some on the right have been falling over themselves to prove to the GOP grass roots that they won’t agree to any reform of our immigration laws that allows a path to citizenship, Brewer made it clear that the bipartisan measures satisfied her well known objections to existing federal policy on illegals. It remains to be seen how much influence Brewer’s decision will have on Congress, but this is a clear blow to the campaign being waged on the right to pressure Republicans to block the immigration bill.

Though many on the right have complained, with some justification, that the predictions of doom for the GOP if they oppose immigration reform are overstated and an effort to “intimidate” them, the real intimidation is the attempt by conservatives to buffalo House Republicans into thinking they will be defeated in primaries by the minority of the party that opposes any immigration measure, no matter how reasonable or how much it prioritizes border security.

Conservatives have come up with a variety of reasons to oppose the reform bill in the past few days. Some have put forward procedural arguments, claiming the bill is too complicated or too lengthy. That’s a fair point, though its advocates should be honest enough to admit it is more pretext than cause as Republicans never scrupled to support long, complicated bills if they approved of their purpose. But conscious of the fact that the key issue for most Americans on immigration has been border security, their most effective line of argument has been the claim that the Corker-Hoeven Amendment is either a sham or won’t actually do the job its proponents claim it can do. But Brewer, who has been on the front lines of the border battle more than any other Republican politician in recent years, gives the lie to this assertion.

Brewer has said that Congress should look carefully at the bill and try to make it better if possible. But the bottom line for her is that Congress finally seems on the brink of passing a measure that heeds the cries for help that Arizonans have made for years. It’s easy for those who aren’t dealing with the problems incurred by the porous border to be skeptical about doubling the number of border patrol personnel or finishing 700 more miles of fence, among other measures in the bill. But Brewer knows that this will make a tangible difference for a state that has borne the brunt of the federal government’s indifference and incompetence. If Jan Brewer, of all people, considers this bill a victory for those who have been pushing for the United States to assert its sovereignty over the border with Mexico, how can others credibly complain that it does nothing to alleviate the concerns of critics of the status quo?

For years, conservatives have said any plan to address immigration reform must include a serious scheme to bolster border security. The Corker-Hoeven Amendment provides just that. While the eventual fate of the bill is still very much in doubt, Brewer’s endorsement puts its opponents on notice that no one is going to buy their claims that the reason they are trying to torpedo it has anything to do with protecting America’s borders.

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Many Claiming the Mantle of Reagan Have Turned on Reagan’s Vision

On the matter of immigration reform and the GOP, I have a couple of thoughts. The first is that in his column today, Michael Gerson of the Washington Post writes, “The GOP’s political goal is modest. It doesn’t need to win majorities among minorities, just avoid lopsided losses.”

That’s quite right. Consider Mitt Romney in 2012. If he had merely secured 42 percent of the Hispanic vote—rather than 27 percent—Romney would have won the popular vote and carried Florida, Colorado, and New Mexico. And if breaking the 40 percent barrier sounds like an impossible goal, recall that George W. Bush won over 40 percent of the Hispanic vote in 2004. That doesn’t mean Governor Romney didn’t have problems with other parts of the electorate, including blue-collar voters in key states. It simply means that losing the Hispanic vote by 44 percent makes it increasingly difficult for Republicans to win national elections.

My second observation is that many of the most ferocious critics of immigration reform claim they are the sons and daughters of the Reagan Revolution, the true of heirs of Reagan. But they are–in both policy and tone–most un-Reagan like.

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On the matter of immigration reform and the GOP, I have a couple of thoughts. The first is that in his column today, Michael Gerson of the Washington Post writes, “The GOP’s political goal is modest. It doesn’t need to win majorities among minorities, just avoid lopsided losses.”

That’s quite right. Consider Mitt Romney in 2012. If he had merely secured 42 percent of the Hispanic vote—rather than 27 percent—Romney would have won the popular vote and carried Florida, Colorado, and New Mexico. And if breaking the 40 percent barrier sounds like an impossible goal, recall that George W. Bush won over 40 percent of the Hispanic vote in 2004. That doesn’t mean Governor Romney didn’t have problems with other parts of the electorate, including blue-collar voters in key states. It simply means that losing the Hispanic vote by 44 percent makes it increasingly difficult for Republicans to win national elections.

My second observation is that many of the most ferocious critics of immigration reform claim they are the sons and daughters of the Reagan Revolution, the true of heirs of Reagan. But they are–in both policy and tone–most un-Reagan like.

As this post documents, Reagan himself not only signed legislation granting amnesty to three million illegal immigrants in exchange for relatively weak enforcement measures; he never demonized illegal immigrants. In 1977, for example, Reagan criticized “the illegal alien fuss” and said illegal aliens may “actually [be] doing work our own people won’t do.”

More broadly, Reagan emphasized the great and vivifying diversity that immigrants brought to this country, and that flowed into and became as one with the national fabric. In Reagan’s words: 

We have a statue in New York Harbor . . . of a woman holding a torch of welcome to those who enter our country to become Americans. She has greeted millions upon millions of immigrants to our country. She welcomes them still. She represents our open door. All of the immigrants who came to us brought their own music, literature, customs, and ideas. And the marvelous thing, a thing of which we’re proud, is they did not have to relinquish these things in order to fit in. In fact, what they brought to America became American. And this diversity has more than enriched us; it has literally shaped us.

One doesn’t hear this kind of elevated rhetoric from many conservatives these days.

Ronald Reagan’s views on immigration, legal and illegal, were connected to a broader vision and conception of America. The fact is that this capacious, generous and hopeful outlook has been replaced by rhetoric that is, from some quarters at least, jagged edged and sends a signal to Hispanics: We don’t really want you; and we don’t much like you.

I understand that one can oppose illegal immigration while also being a champion for legal immigration. But there’s simply no question that these days many on the right are hyper-focusing on illegal immigration, even though the influx of illegal immigrants to America is considerably less than it was in the 1990s. (As Linda Chavez has written, “Today, illegal immigration is at its lowest since 1972. Indeed, more Mexican immigrants are now leaving the country than coming here, with net immigration from Mexico below zero for the first time since the racially motivated mass deportations of Mexicans … during the 1930s.”) There are very few positive words about legal immigrants–and those that are said have a pro forma quality to them. I’m struck as well by the overall lack of attention when it comes to attracting high-skilled immigrants. 

The Republican Party’s greatest presidents, Lincoln and Reagan, wanted America to be a welcoming society to immigrants. They wanted the GOP to be a proudly visible pro-immigrant party. You would think those who most often claim the mantle of Reagan would want the same thing again. They actually don’t. And that’s not only a shame; it has come at quite a high political cost. 

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Immigration Debate Goes Off the Rails

It’s hard to know what to think about the debate about immigration reform in the aftermath of yesterday’s move to strengthen the gang of eight’s proposal by including an unprecedented beefing up of border security. After months of carrying on about the lack of teeth in the bill’s language about stopping the flow of illegal immigrants in the future, critics were confounded by a decision by the sponsors to accept new amendments that nearly doubled the number of border patrol agents and mandated the completion of a fence, as well as included a host of other ideas that will make it a lot harder to cross over into the United States from Mexico without permission. But the response from most of those complaining about the measure was a big “so what?”

By doubling down on border security in a way that might even be considered overkill, the gang has made a serious effort to address a deficiency in their bill. But listening to some of the criticisms of the effort, you get the feeling that there really is nothing they can do to win over many of their opponents. After having long called for a strengthening of the border patrol, they are unimpressed because they say the new measures won’t be implemented or won’t work quickly enough. As the Wall Street Journal editorial column noted earlier this week, the refusal of the bill’s foes to take yes for an answer on this issue shows that their reliance on the issue was nothing more than a “ruse” intended to divert the discussion from what’s really motivating their stand: their opposition to any measure that makes it easier to enter the United States and work here legally.

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It’s hard to know what to think about the debate about immigration reform in the aftermath of yesterday’s move to strengthen the gang of eight’s proposal by including an unprecedented beefing up of border security. After months of carrying on about the lack of teeth in the bill’s language about stopping the flow of illegal immigrants in the future, critics were confounded by a decision by the sponsors to accept new amendments that nearly doubled the number of border patrol agents and mandated the completion of a fence, as well as included a host of other ideas that will make it a lot harder to cross over into the United States from Mexico without permission. But the response from most of those complaining about the measure was a big “so what?”

By doubling down on border security in a way that might even be considered overkill, the gang has made a serious effort to address a deficiency in their bill. But listening to some of the criticisms of the effort, you get the feeling that there really is nothing they can do to win over many of their opponents. After having long called for a strengthening of the border patrol, they are unimpressed because they say the new measures won’t be implemented or won’t work quickly enough. As the Wall Street Journal editorial column noted earlier this week, the refusal of the bill’s foes to take yes for an answer on this issue shows that their reliance on the issue was nothing more than a “ruse” intended to divert the discussion from what’s really motivating their stand: their opposition to any measure that makes it easier to enter the United States and work here legally.

Fortunately, not every skeptic on the right is insensible to what is going on here. Last night, Fox News host Bill O’Reilly endorsed the reform package. As O’Reilly noted, reform of a failed system is just “the right thing to do” about a difficult problem. He’s right to note that the bill is complicated and will take a long time to implement. But it also provides the only possible solution to the situation. The bill’s critics seem to prefer an unworkable status quo simply because they are horrified by the idea that many of those here illegally will be provided with a difficult path to citizenship. They keep talking about “amnesty” for illegals, but that is no argument against reform since if the bill fails, the 11 million undocumented residents of this country will still be here.

But O’Reilly is not being joined by many of the other leading conservative talkers. Laura Ingraham immediately answered O’Reilly on his own program. She seemed to be saying that conservatives should be working to stop anything that President Obama and many Democrats supported. Like Ingraham, Sean Hannity, another Fox host, just doesn’t trust the government and considers GOP supporters of the bill to be “suckers.” Ann Coulter, who appeared on his show last night, mocked the idea that 20,000 new border patrolmen, the fence and other measures would do any good, leading me back to the notion I expressed a couple of days ago that perhaps only the construction of a Game of Thrones-style 700-foot-tall ice wall to stop both job seekers and zombies would impress her. Perhaps such a wall will be created after, as she proposed, a Republican-controlled Senate without Marco Rubio is elected.

What we’ve heard in the last two days proves the Journal was right. This argument has never really been about border security. It’s about the reluctance of some people to face up to reality about immigration, which has always been a net plus for the American economy and will be again if this plan is put into motion. There is no rational or fair solution to the question of what to do with the 11 million illegals here other than to offer them a way to become citizens. So long as this is paired with a serious effort to prevent more illegals from coming, objections boil down to an unthinking distrust of government or an unwholesome dislike of immigration, per se. Such sentiment is nothing new in American political history. It is as old as the hills and should be rejected as it has been in the past. Those on the right who pander to these sentiments or who fear splitting the party or doing anything that might create more Hispanic voters in the future are doing themselves and the Republican Party no service. 

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Rubio, Ryan and the Excommunication Impulse

National Review’s Katrina Trinko wrote a piece on a Tea Party gathering in Washington that turned into an anti-Rubio rally. According to Ms. Trinko:

Rubio, who has been attempting to sell the Gang of Eight bill to conservatives for months, came under fire during the rally. Heritage Foundation scholar Robert Rector, the co-author of a report estimating the net costs of illegal immigration and amnesty to the taxpayer, took aim at the Florida senator. “No matter what Marco Rubio says, who has not read his own bill, incidentally . . . ” was how Rector began a criticism of the immigration legislation. At one point, when Rector mentioned Rubio, the assembled tea partiers booed loudly, with at least one person shouting, “Traitor!” One sign read, “Rubio Lies, America dies.” Another read, “6.3 Trillion $, Cost of Marcos Amnesty Bill. (Net.)”

I have a few thoughts on this, beginning with pointing out that Senator Rubio has handled himself superbly during this whole debate. At the outset of the debate many on the right who were highly skeptical of immigration reform treated him respectfully because of Rubio’s conservative credentials. But the mood has shifted in a much more negative direction in the last month or so. Increasingly this has the feel of 2007 all over again, at least in some quarters. Which means it’s getting ugly and, especially if immigration legislation passes in the Senate, will get uglier. 

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National Review’s Katrina Trinko wrote a piece on a Tea Party gathering in Washington that turned into an anti-Rubio rally. According to Ms. Trinko:

Rubio, who has been attempting to sell the Gang of Eight bill to conservatives for months, came under fire during the rally. Heritage Foundation scholar Robert Rector, the co-author of a report estimating the net costs of illegal immigration and amnesty to the taxpayer, took aim at the Florida senator. “No matter what Marco Rubio says, who has not read his own bill, incidentally . . . ” was how Rector began a criticism of the immigration legislation. At one point, when Rector mentioned Rubio, the assembled tea partiers booed loudly, with at least one person shouting, “Traitor!” One sign read, “Rubio Lies, America dies.” Another read, “6.3 Trillion $, Cost of Marcos Amnesty Bill. (Net.)”

I have a few thoughts on this, beginning with pointing out that Senator Rubio has handled himself superbly during this whole debate. At the outset of the debate many on the right who were highly skeptical of immigration reform treated him respectfully because of Rubio’s conservative credentials. But the mood has shifted in a much more negative direction in the last month or so. Increasingly this has the feel of 2007 all over again, at least in some quarters. Which means it’s getting ugly and, especially if immigration legislation passes in the Senate, will get uglier. 

Yet Senator Rubio–along with Representative Paul Ryan, who has become a visible advocate for immigration reform–has not returned the vitriol. Both men have spoken in calm, measured and gracious ways, taking into account the views of their critics while offering informed arguments on behalf of reform. They have refused to attack or thunderously denounce those who hold a position different than theirs. In fact, they have bent over backwards to make it clear they understand conservative skepticism on matters related to immigration reform.

Observation number two: Whether or not conservatives support immigration legislation is not a matter of principle. It’s a prudential judgment on whether the legislation that is debated improves the current situation–not whether the legislation that is written is flawless. This tendency to judge legislation (and individuals) against a mythical ideal is not only misguided; it’s antithetical to conservatism itself. 

A third observation: Even if one disagrees with Rubio and Ryan on immigration, the attempt to portray them as traitors to the conservative cause is ludicrous. By those standards, Ronald Reagan would have been excommunicated from the conservative movement even before he ran as president on grounds that as governor he had (a) supported the largest tax hike of any governor in history at that point and (b) signed into law “a liberalization of abortion that led to an explosion of abortions in the nation’s largest state.”

Those who are drawn in the direction of purity or excommunication, who seem intent on elevating every difference into an apocalyptic battle over principle, are doing the work of liberals, which is to diminish the appeal of conservatism.

Marco Rubio and Paul Ryan may be right or they may be wrong on immigration reform. But they are among the most impressive and appealing conservatives in the land. If their stance on immigration reform leads some on the right to turn on them with a vengeance, it will be far more of an indictment of their critics than it will be an indictment of Rubio and Ryan. 

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Border Surge Puts Gang’s Critics to the Test

Opponents of the bipartisan gang of eight immigration reform bill have spent the last few months blasting it as a scam. Their primary argument has been that the legislation was cooked up by Democrats to push legalization of the status of illegal immigrants without doing anything to deal with border security, and that Republican members of the gang like Senator Marco Rubio were either sellouts or dupes. Rubio lent some weight to this talking point when he admitted that enforcement provisions needed to be strengthened in order for it to gain more support or even get his own vote. But an agreement between the gang and two key Republican critics of their work to include an unprecedented buildup along the border with Mexico may have taken the air out of the anti-reform forces’ case.

The deal with Senators Bob Corker and John Hoeven calls for what its sponsors are calling a surge that will nearly double the number of border patrol agents deployed in the south as well as drones and mandating the completion of another 700 miles of fence separating the United States and Mexico. While no army or barrier can hermetically seal a frontier that crosses nearly half a continent, this will make it much harder for illegals to cross into the United States and go along way toward satisfying the justified worries about the security of those who live in the path of the migrants and those who bring them to this country. More to the point, it puts immigration reform foes to the test. With this kind of language and funding put into the bill, it is no longer possible to pretend that this is a repeat of the 1986 reform package that failed to stop the flood of job seekers from Mexico despite promises to do so. With enforcement of this kind, we have a right to ask those who oppose the bill: what are they really worried about? If they’re not protecting the border or the rule of law (which is flouted by the continuation of the current failed system), what bothers them about the idea of making it possible to create a viable scheme for legal immigration and the gradual legalization of those who are already here?

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Opponents of the bipartisan gang of eight immigration reform bill have spent the last few months blasting it as a scam. Their primary argument has been that the legislation was cooked up by Democrats to push legalization of the status of illegal immigrants without doing anything to deal with border security, and that Republican members of the gang like Senator Marco Rubio were either sellouts or dupes. Rubio lent some weight to this talking point when he admitted that enforcement provisions needed to be strengthened in order for it to gain more support or even get his own vote. But an agreement between the gang and two key Republican critics of their work to include an unprecedented buildup along the border with Mexico may have taken the air out of the anti-reform forces’ case.

The deal with Senators Bob Corker and John Hoeven calls for what its sponsors are calling a surge that will nearly double the number of border patrol agents deployed in the south as well as drones and mandating the completion of another 700 miles of fence separating the United States and Mexico. While no army or barrier can hermetically seal a frontier that crosses nearly half a continent, this will make it much harder for illegals to cross into the United States and go along way toward satisfying the justified worries about the security of those who live in the path of the migrants and those who bring them to this country. More to the point, it puts immigration reform foes to the test. With this kind of language and funding put into the bill, it is no longer possible to pretend that this is a repeat of the 1986 reform package that failed to stop the flood of job seekers from Mexico despite promises to do so. With enforcement of this kind, we have a right to ask those who oppose the bill: what are they really worried about? If they’re not protecting the border or the rule of law (which is flouted by the continuation of the current failed system), what bothers them about the idea of making it possible to create a viable scheme for legal immigration and the gradual legalization of those who are already here?

The answer we’ll get from many immigration foes is that there is something deeply wrong with “rewarding” those 11 million illegal immigrants already in the country with a chance for eventual citizenship. That’s understandable up to a point. Illegal immigrants did break the law. But if they’ve come here to work (generally in jobs that Americans didn’t want) and lead decent crime-free lives, doesn’t it make sense to bring them in out of the shadows and have them paying taxes (as well as fines before they can become citizens) rather than remaining outside the law? Perhaps some still claim that the illegals will, in Mitt Romney’s unfortunate phrase, “self-deport” back to wherever they came from. But we know that won’t happen. Nor will the United States deport 11 million people, many of whom have children that are American citizens. As Rubio has stated again and again, fears about “amnesty” are misplaced since that is what we have now.

Those who also claim that there is a third choice between the status quo and legalization are not being serious. That is not politically possible. Like it or not, the choice is between the gang’s compromise bill—which with its emphasis on border security and steep burdens on those illegals who want to be citizens represents a stark departure from what President Obama and liberal Democrats would like to do—and what we have now.

In the absence of a viable argument about security, it’s hard to avoid the conclusion that there are some among the bill’s opponents who have a deeper objection to immigration reform. Some of them just don’t want to fix a broken system because they don’t want to do anything that facilitates legal immigration. They forget that immigration has always been an engine of American prosperity, not our impoverishment. They confuse the need to reform our runaway entitlements with the needs of people who come here to work. Even worse, some express worry about the growing number of Hispanics and the political implication of immigration.

Suffice it say that these are not the sorts of points that will win many arguments outside of the hard right. The bill is, like all pieces of legislation on this scale, complicated, too long and stuffed with deals to gain votes. But that doesn’t mean it isn’t necessary. That may not be enough to convince House Republicans who are convinced the party base is anti-immigration. But stripped of a defensible concern about the border, these GOP members need to understand that they are hurting both the country and their party by resorting to less presentable arguments.

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Ryan v. Levin on Immigration Reform

On Tuesday Representative Paul Ryan was interviewed by radio talk show host Mark Levin on immigration reform. It’s a very good interview. Mr. Levin, a harsh critic of immigration reform, asks direct and informed questions. Representative Ryan answers them in a precise and knowledgeable way. He is clearly in command of the issue. 

It’s fair to say, I think, that Levin simply doesn’t believe any bill under consideration will do what needs to be done–that claims of increased border security and e-verify screenings are illusory. We’ve been promised them before, and they have never come to pass. Mr. Ryan, on the other hand, argues that even if immigration legislation is imperfect, the right policies, if written into law and enforced, would dramatically improve the current situation (in which we have, among other things, de facto amnesty). 

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On Tuesday Representative Paul Ryan was interviewed by radio talk show host Mark Levin on immigration reform. It’s a very good interview. Mr. Levin, a harsh critic of immigration reform, asks direct and informed questions. Representative Ryan answers them in a precise and knowledgeable way. He is clearly in command of the issue. 

It’s fair to say, I think, that Levin simply doesn’t believe any bill under consideration will do what needs to be done–that claims of increased border security and e-verify screenings are illusory. We’ve been promised them before, and they have never come to pass. Mr. Ryan, on the other hand, argues that even if immigration legislation is imperfect, the right policies, if written into law and enforced, would dramatically improve the current situation (in which we have, among other things, de facto amnesty). 

As Ryan laid things out, he favors a House bill that includes (a) objective and enforceable border triggers; (b) a genuine verification system that has to be in place before proceeding with changes in the status of undocumented workers; (c) a legal immigration system that takes some of the pressure off the southern border, which will lead to greater security; and (d) a way to get the economy the labor it needs in order to achieve greater economic growth.

Whichever side one is on in the immigration debate, this discussion is a good (and civil) one, and it’s worth listening to.

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