Proponents of comprehensive immigration reform are looking to end the week with a bit more momentum in their favor than they began the week with. As I wrote on Wednesday, the Heritage Foundation study calling attention to the entitlement costs of immigration reform not only earned strong criticism from trusted Republican budget hawks, but also was unlikely to catch and keep the attention of partisans on both sides. Given the revelation that one of the study’s co-authors once wrote a racially charged thesis paper on the subject, it seems the “gang of eight” dodged that critique.
Additionally, the bipartisan group of senators trying to shepherd the legislation through the Senate may have avoided another common pitfall–one that sunk the 2007 reform legislation. At that time, then-Senator Obama went back on an agreement to oppose any “poison pill” amendments that would kill the bill, regardless of the merits of the amendments themselves. He cast a crucial vote in favor of just such an amendment, sinking the bill. But as the Hill reports, the gang of eight seems to have navigated the Judiciary Committee amendment process and come out intact:
Does the Chechen background of the accused Boston Marathon bombers have any practical relevance to American foreign or domestic policy in the wake of the attacks? The attempts to answer that question have produced a wave of stories over the past week. It is natural–and rational–to want to understand the motive behind an act of violence such as this. Motive, second only to means, is knowledge that usually has practical implications: if we know why the perpetrators did what they did, perhaps we can stop this from happening again. Unfortunately, in this case, Chechnya and the wider Caucasus conflict are unlikely to provide much direction.
As Jonathan noted on Friday, some opponents of comprehensive immigration reform are using the Boston bombing to call attention to the dangers of amnesty. But today Rand Paul entered the fray by asking why Chechens were able to immigrate at all. In a letter to Harry Reid, Paul writes: “Why did the current system allow two individuals to immigrate to the United States from the Chechen Republic in Russia, an area known as a hotbed of Islamic extremism, who then committed acts of terrorism? Were there any safeguards? Could this have been prevented? Does the immigration reform before us address this?”
Two stories illustrated yesterday the (sometimes willful) confusion about where Marco Rubio stands on immigration reform. Hot Air discusses a Media Research Center video taken at a pro-immigration rally in Washington. The MRC’s correspondent noticed that some of the signs held by protesters were directed at Rubio. One said “Mr. Rubio your parents are immigrants,” and the woman holding the sign admitted she did not know, when pressed, who Marco Rubio actually was. The same was true of a woman standing next to her whose sign read “Rubio the time is now.” She told the MRC, “Look, my social worker gave it to us.”
Some of those at the rally were schoolchildren who were given anti-Rubio signs by their teachers. Very few knew who Rubio even was; those who did know him didn’t know much about Rubio’s stance on immigration. (This may have something to do with the fact that, as I wrote about here, liberal “pro-immigration” groups have been calling voters and misinforming them about Rubio’s support for immigration.) The other story was that those who oppose Rubio’s immigration reform plans seized on a story that cast doubt about the enforcement provisions in the compromise that is taking shape. Rubio’s staff, then, has spent the week trying to answer a recurring question: What does Marco Rubio want?
There is no greater obstacle to achieving comprehensive immigration reform than the perverse system of incentives created by its absence. We have writtenat length here about pro-immigration reform Republicans’ concern that President Obama would torpedo negotiations, and that this concern arose from the fact that Obama has twice now done precisely that, either singlehandedly or close to it.
In 2007, Obama did this by joining the immigration reform inner circle in the Senate and then supporting a poison-pill amendment to tank the negotiations, frustrating even his Democratic allies like Ted Kennedy. In 2012, Obama used an executive action that stopped Marco Rubio’s bipartisan reform proposal in its tracks. In both cases, Obama had reason to do so: in 2007, he wanted to prevent Republicans from getting a policy win on an issue he needed for the 2008 general election, and in 2012 he again used immigration as a cudgel against the GOP in his re-election campaign. And while Obama no longer needs the issue on the table for his own electoral purposes, he may want it to linger unresolved long enough to hurt Republicans in the 2014 midterms.
There is, however, an additional obstacle on the side claiming to support reform that has generally been able to fly under the radar. Marc Caputo writes at the Miami Herald:
On September 11 of last year, as the attacks on the American missions in Benghazi and Cairo developed, the New York Timesled with a description of the fate of the American flag at the embassy in Cairo: violent Islamists took down the American flag and replaced it with a black flag “similar to Al Qaeda’s banner.” About three months later, the Times ran another story about the fate of an American flag, this one in Illinois: a voter upset about President Obama’s re-election flew his American flag upside down.
Aside from having the American flag at the center of the stories, the two pieces had another element in common: in both, the offenders–a disgruntled Republican voter and violent Salafist Islamists–shared a descriptor. The New York Times regarded both as “ultraconservative.” The Times makes no attempt to justify this latest attack on the English language: it never explains what makes someone “ultraconservative.” The paper is simply content with vague designations that hint at opprobrium and ensure the near-impossibility of learning anything from its stories. Two stories in the news this week brought this to mind.
Although there has been some heated digital confrontation between conservatives in the post-election blame game and adjustment period, it should be noted that much of the right’s recalibration since November has been quite sensible. The GOP by and large has had it wrong on immigration in recent years, and paid dearly for it at the ballot box. The sudden willingness to work toward comprehensive immigration reform may in some cases be cynical, but it is also, at the very least, logical.
And President Obama’s reelection victory exposed party weaknesses outside legislative issues, such as poor candidate recruitment and messaging. So it’s not all that surprising that a group like the one led by Karl Rove has formed with the purpose of enabling the nomination of better candidates for certain races. This has, naturally, whetted the appetite of liberals for ever more “moderation” on the part of Republicans. E.J. Dionne’s column today in the Washington Post is a good example of this mindset. Dionne writes:
One of the reasons conservatives and pro-immigration reform politicians worried President Obama would do something to scuttle a bipartisan compromise on the issue is that it would follow a pattern Obama has set throughout his administration. The president has a habit of not participating in bipartisan negotiations and then harpooning them–or attempting to–from the outside. This was the case when Obama gave his much-derided rally during the fiscal cliff negotiations that seemed designed to kill the deal that was being formed at the 11th hour.
It was also exactly what Obama did with immigration reform last year, when Senator Marco Rubio stepped up to lead GOP efforts to find a compromise and the president preempted any possible deal with executive action. Yet as the Hill reminds us today, if Obama did something to derail immigration reform this time it would actually be the third time he worked assiduously and successfully to kill reform. The Hillnotes the story of the ill-fated immigration reform negotiations of 2007. Obama, then a senator, asked to join the bipartisan negotiating group at its core, which agreed to oppose any amendment that could kill the bill even if they agreed with it to ensure the bill would move forward. Obama apparently ignored the negotiating sessions but always showed up for the press conferences, and then both supported and offered his own “poison pill” amendments, including the one that both parties credit with finishing off the reform effort for good:
Reason magazine’s website has published an illustration on the convoluted and often hopeless process of immigrating to the U.S. and applying for citizenship, originally published in its October 2008 issue on immigration. If you have a non-immediate relative who is an American citizen it can still take up to 28 years to gain citizenship, though as the diagram notes, there are many cases that never even get that far. And despite the value that “unskilled” immigrants can offer certain sectors of the American economy, Reason’s map points out:
There is virtually no process for unskilled immigrants without relations in the U.S. to apply for permanent legal residence. Only 10,000 green cards are allotted every year, and the wait time approaches infinity. (Those who receive H-2A or H-2B temporary visas for seasonal work cannot transition to a green card.)
In the aftermath of a GOP presidential primary in which candidates spoke about “self-deportation” and building “electric fences,” it’s not surprising the Republican nominee lost the Hispanic vote in 2012. But it’s the margin of the defeat that is staggering: 44 points. This, after George W. Bush won 44 percent of the Hispanic vote in 2004.
The GOP has a problem with the fastest growing demographic group in America–and Florida Senator Marco Rubio knows it and is determined to do something about it.
As this interview with the Wall Street Journal’s Matthew Kaminski demonstrates, Senator Rubio has thought through the issue with care and thoroughness–from border security, to moving us toward merit and skill-based legal immigration, to increasing the number of visas for permanent and seasonal farm workers, to workplace enforcement, to what to do with the 12 million illegals currently in America (including making accommodations for people who came to America unlawfully with their parents).
Every so often a political event that seems inevitable fails to materialize. One such event that looks to be headed in that direction is a serious primary challenge to South Carolina Senator Lindsey Graham. Long derided by conservative grassroots as “Lindsey Grahamnesty” for his moderate stance on immigration, the two-term senator has battled his own side enough that most expected the Tea Party primary wave to land on the shores of the Palmetto State with full force in 2014, when Graham’s term is up.
Yet for all such talk, there hasn’t been much noise coming from actual candidates who would challenge Graham. One reason for this, as Politico notes, is Graham’s high-profile opposition to Susan Rice’s potential nomination as secretary of state. Not only did Graham win the battle–Rice withdrew her name from consideration–but it’s also seen as a victory in conservatives’ effort to raise the profile of the administration’s failure in Benghazi and its ensuing evasiveness over misleading statements to the press about it. Graham’s poll numbers have seen a bounce from it as well. But there are other reasons for Graham’s sudden stability.
Sheldon Adelson sat at the end of a sweeping boardroom table in an office in his Las Vegas hotel, the Venetian. Earlier that week, he had described himself as “basically a social liberal” in an interview with the Wall Street Journal. His comments quickly drew criticism from both the left and right; The Huffington Post called him a “low-information billionaire,” and he was blasted by the right-wing anti-immigration activists. But Adelson seemed unfazed.
“I got a call from a friend of mine who went to a Republican thing yesterday,” he told me. “They said, ‘Well Adelson’s got it right. He’s got it right.’ What’s wrong admitting that some of the social issues are those which Republicans should adopt?”
As for the critics, Adelson was dismissive: “What right do they have to criticize me? They don’t know me at all.”
For someone whose name and face were a regular staple of the election coverage, the public does have many misconceptions about Adelson. His liberal social views rarely received media attention during the campaign season, though he’s certainly never hidden them.
“See that paper on the wall?” he asked, gesturing toward a poster with rows of names on it. “That is a list of some of the scientists that we give a lot of money to conduct collaborative medical research, including stem cell research. What’s wrong if I help stem cell research? I’m all in favor. And if somebody wants to have an abortion, let them have an abortion,” he said.
Adelson wouldn’t be the first high-profile Republican to suggest the party should soften (or at least downplay) its position on social issues. But as the seventh richest man in America and the biggest campaign donor in political history, Adelson could have much more influence over the direction of the GOP than any of these other internal critics. According to the Wall Street Journal, he spent over $100 million on the last election, and has no compunction about spending more. “To me, it’s not a lot of money,” he said.
The Obama reelection campaign’s impressive turnout and get-out-the-vote strategy took the president’s Republican opponents by surprise. But it appears to also be teaching Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan an incomplete, if not totally wrong, lesson about their loss to President Obama. Earlier this week, Ryan told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel that “urban” turnout was key for the president, and dismissed the notion that the GOP ticket’s vision for the country was rejected by voters.
And then yesterday, on a conference call with donors and supporters, Romney expanded on that argument. He said the president offered “gifts” to minority voters, and named Obamacare and immigration as important parts of that. The New York Timesreports:
Barack Obama ushered in America’s first large-scale experiment in personality-cult politics. The experiment continues apace. Obama got reelected because he enjoys a degree of personal popularity disconnected from his record. No modern president has ever been returned to office with employment figures and right-track-wrong-track numbers as poor as those Obama has achieved.
Obama couldn’t run on his record, which proved to be no problem—Americans didn’t vote on his record. According to exit polls, 77 percent of voters said the economy is bad and only 25 percent said they’re better off than they were four years ago. But since six in ten voters claimed the economy as their number one issue, it’s clear this election wasn’t about issues at all.
The post-election soul searching from Republicans has made one thing clear: there is a sea change in the conservative attitude toward immigration. Conservatives were always split on this issue (support for immigrants and immigration reform is certainly nothing new here in the pages of COMMENTARY), but there has been vocal and influential grassroots opposition to immigration reform. So it is most welcome that after a historic drubbing by the growing Hispanic vote, Republicans have “evolved,” to use the president’s term.
Immigration reform and taking a more welcoming attitude toward immigrants makes sense on every level–economically, morally, culturally, etc. But at the risk of being accused of looking a gift horse in the mouth, I think something needs to be said about the way this argument is taking shape, with particular emphasis on the newfound expression of support for Hispanic immigration on the right. As I said, there are many logical reasons to welcome immigrants and to support immigration reform. But conservatives who have previously opposed it and are now admitting that cynical electoral considerations are driving their evolution are making an understandable, but still devastating, mistake.
The inevitable narrative after a presidential election is that the losing side is on its way to extinction. In 2008, the argument was that the GOP had become a regional party of white southerners. We’re seeing a variation on that this time around, with the claim that Republicans can’t win an election because minorities and women are eclipsing the white male demographic:
The Los Angeles Times is leading the charge with a story headlined “Obama’s reelection marks a turning point in American politics: With the growing power of minorities, women and gays, it’s the end of the world as straight white males know it.”
Even more than the election that made Barack Obama the first black president, the one that returned him to office sent an unmistakable signal that the hegemony of the straight white male in America is over. …
Exit poll data, gathered from interviews with voters as they left their polling places, showed that Obama’s support from whites was 4 percentage points lower than in 2008. But he won by drawing on a minority-voter base that was 2 percentage points larger, as a share of the overall electorate, than four years ago.
The president built his winning coalition on a series of election-year initiatives and issue differences with Republican challenger Mitt Romney. In the months leading up to the election, Obama announced his support for same-sex marriage, unilaterally granted a form of limited legalization to young illegal immigrants and put abortion rights and contraception at the heart of a brutally effective anti-Romney attack ad campaign.
The result turned out to be an unbeatable combination: virtually universal support from black voters, who turned out as strongly as in 2008, plus decisive backing from members of the younger and fast-growing Latino and Asian American communities, who chose Obama over Romney by ratios of roughly 3 to 1. All of those groups contributed to Obama’s majority among women. (Gay voters, a far smaller group, went for Obama by a 54-point margin.)
There are two ways conservatives can respond to this analysis. One is to devolve into a Buchananite frenzy that the White Male is under siege and the country is being hijacked by minorities and women who are fundamentally at odds with the Republican Party. Not only is that unhelpful, it also buys into identity politics in a way that runs counter to the conservative and American message.
To follow up on my previous item on how much trouble Republicans face with Latino (and other minority) voters, take a look at the results of the Fox News exit polls.
They show that 11 percent of voters were Latinos and that they went for President Obama by margins varying from 65 percent (those 65 years old and up) to 74 percent (18- to 29-year-olds). The fact that the youngest group–which made up 4 percent of the total electorate–is the most Democratic is especially alarming because of what it says about the future.
In the emerging postmortems on the Romney campaign, many reasons are being adduced for his defeat, but one point is generally consistently acknowledged–the Republicans paid a heavy price for alienating Latino voters. As Fox News notes:
Obama garnered 71 percent of the Latino vote nationwide compared to Mitt Romney’s 27 percent, according to the exit polls. Romney’s showing among Latinos in 2012 is the worst for a GOP candidate since Bob Dole won 21 percent of the Latino vote in 1996. When President George W. Bush won in 2000, he received 44 percent of the Latino vote, and in 2008 John McCain won 31 percent of the vote….
The importance of the Latino vote can especially be underscored in states like Nevada, Florida, and Colorado, where the Latino electorate makes a significant portion of the electorate at 18, 17, and 14 percent, respectively.
It is not a coincidence, of course, that Romney lost all of those states. In retrospect, President Obama pulled off a masterstroke when in June he issued an executive order stopping the potential deportation of some 800,000 young people who arrived here as undocumented immigrants. He thus seized the initiative by depicting himself as the champion of immigrants and the GOP–which loudly denounced his move–as the party of nativism.
When it comes to identity politics, the Obama White House’s “war on women” has dominated the conversation. But the significance of the women’s vote, in terms of demographics, is still generally overshadowed by the minority/white vote split. As Ronald Brownstein writes, President Obama needs about an 80/40 distribution to win reelection: 80 percent of minorities and 40 percent of white voters. And as Ruy Teixeira notes here, the Hispanic share of the vote has grown since the 2008 presidential election. Which is why polls showing a massive Latino preference for the Democratic ticket have Republicans nervous about more than just this one election.
But outreach to the Latino community presents its own problems. First of all, Republicans, and especially conservatives, are comfortable with identity politics when it comes to cultural divides and religious issues, but exceedingly uncomfortable when it comes to race or ethnicity. But more importantly, the GOP’s ability to attract Latino voters on the issues is often overstated, and presents something of a mirage. Take this recent poll of Latino voters, released about a week ago. It shows Obama getting 73 percent of the Latino vote, not because of immigration (an issue in which Obama has almost no interest), but because of the economy–exactly where Republicans thought they could make gains:
Winston Churchill was said to have remarked: “The Americans will always do the right thing… after they’ve exhausted all the alternatives.” The same might be said of the Pentagon, which has finally, after a long delay, done the right thing with regard to letting immigrants sign up for the armed forces even if they lack green cards.
This program, known as Military Accessions Vital to the National Interest (MAVNI), was a big success during the one year it was in existence, from 2009 to 2010. As the New York Timesnotes, in the first class of 1,000 immigrants, one-third had master’s degrees or higher and on average they scored 17 points higher (out of a total of 99) on an entrance exam. Fully one-third went into the Special Forces, which is not easy to get into. And among those initial enlistees was Sgt. Saral Shrestha, a Nepalese immigrant who was just named the Army’s Soldier of the Year.
Specifically, Romney’s new ad focuses on the disproportionate impact the economic downturn has had on the Hispanic community. Eleven percent are unemployed, compared with around eight percent for the public at large (h/t Dan Halper):