History will record that in 2013, the Republican Party establishment gambled away its historic opportunity to change the course of politics in America. The Republican Party leadership decided to play 2014 politics with the deck of cards handed them by the Democrats.
Despite all the evidence, all the lessons of history and all the warnings, in approaching the difficult issue of immigration reform, the Republican establishment placed its bet on identity politics. With that choice, it handed the Democrats a certain victory – not only on amnesty, but on the continued expansion of the welfare state.
The evidence of history is all against the likelihood of success of the Republican gamble on identity politics. But just as “hope springs eternal” in the human heart, so does laziness triumph over competence in the Republican consultant class.
The Republican establishment has decided to take what it thinks is the path to winning more support from Hispanic voters by agreeing to pass amnesty legislation disguised as a bipartisan package that includes enhanced border security.
But this time, the amnesty debate has not been mainly over policy. It’s all about “smart politics.” Republicans think they need to “get the immigration issue behind us,” and therein lies the trap.
The amnesty gambit is fatally flawed in every respect, from its premises to its legislative gimmicks. Those many flaws have been aired in the congressional debate by many brave conservatives over the past six months. But what has hardly been discussed in the debate over new amnesty legislation is the road not taken: the lost opportunities for winning Hispanic voters by appealing to Hispanics not as a special interest group but as Americans.
There are two main facets to this lost opportunity, one positive and one negative. The negative one should be obvious: Republicans will reap very little credit for any new amnesty – and all of the blame when it fails to live up to its promises. But it’s not the real tragedy of the choice that has been made.
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The greater loss to the Republican Party in selling out the rule of law for a dishonest bargain on amnesty legislation – dishonest because they know full well that the promises for meaningful border security and interior enforcement will never be kept – is not the amnesty itself, it is the loss of the higher ground in the long-term battle against the incremental advance of government paternalism and dependency.
Not only are Republican “pragmatists” foolish to think they can out-pander Democrats on immigration reform, they have implicitly and probably irreversibly adopted the jargon, the slogans and the political rules of engagement for appealing to Hispanic voters on other issues as well. It is yet another triumph for identity politics – politics based on race and ethnicity.
It is astonishing how a Republican establishment addicted to polls, focus groups and “wedge issues” has chosen to ignore the wealth of polling data and other evidence that amnesty is not the issue of foremost importance to the large majority of Hispanic citizens. I emphasize citizens because in evaluating polling data, the differences between the Hispanic population at large and Hispanics who are citizens is significant – and not only on immigration, but on most other issues as well.
How many of the Republican congressmen being lobbied for the amnesty bill are aware that according to a recent Pew Hispanic Center poll, 43 percent of Hispanic citizens believe that legal status should be granted to illegal aliens only after the border has been controlled? Did they fail to notice the numerous polls of Hispanic voters in the 2008 and 2012 presidential elections showing that Hispanic voters ranked immigration reform below jobs, education and health care in importance?
The only Hispanics who place amnesty at the top of their agenda are activist organizations like La Raza and the National Immigration Forum, groups that practically live at the Obama White House.
Yet, despite the abundant evidence that another amnesty is the road to ruin, the Republican establishment has bought the idea that to win Hispanic votes, we must repeat the mistakes of the 1986 amnesty program. The stink in the air is palpable.
Consider this question: Having bamboozled and harassed and intimidated Republican legislators into agreeing – again – to “one last amnesty,” will the Democrats and their allies in the media, the universities and the proliferating identity-politics groups allow the immigration issue to fade into the background? Will Republican politicians suddenly find themselves on a “level playing field” when Hispanic voter registration remains 3-to-1 Democrat?
To believe that, you have to believe not only in the tooth fairy and unicorns but that prostitutes are saving money for Aunt Mildred’s kidney operation.
But here’s the real tragedy. Republicans have now joined Democrats in believing that Hispanic voters can be appealed to only as victims of past oppression, not as Americans with the same hopes and concerns as other Americans. The Republican leadership has jumped into the cesspool of identity politics but insists on calling it a sauna.