There are no easy answers to the question of how Republicans can reinvigorate the political participation of working-class white Americans, though the ills are obvious — as Camarota points out, “people without a college degree really aren’t doing all that well in this economy,” and they feel increasingly alienated from the political process (voter turnout among this group dropped four percentage points from 2004 to 2012).
Meanwhile, the Senate’s proposed comprehensive-immigration-reform legislation, Camarota says, “would seem to be precisely the kind of policy that would alienate those voters” — an amnesty to offend their law-and-order priorities, more low-skilled workers to push down wages, more legal beneficiaries to expand the welfare state, etc.
The problems of these voters are manifold, and the Republican party doesn’t have answers for many of them. In order to begin winning elections consistently again, it will need some. But in the meantime, the party can not afford to commit any unforced errors, such as embracing a policy despised by their demographic base, working-class whites — still almost half the American electorate.
It is certain that, in the long term, the Republican party cannot win on the basis of the white vote alone. Winning the hearts and minds of minority groups is a good goal for the party, but it is a long-term one. Camarota, pointing to dropping white turnout and the risks of Republican support for amnesty, contends that the GOP “has a more immediate problem they’re not thinking about.” Besides, down the road, a Gang of Eight–like bill might win Republican converts, but it would also add to the citizenship rolls millions of Hispanics and low-income immigrants, who look likely to vote Democratic.
Regardless, the results of the 2012 election indicate that, in the short term, the electoral case for comprehensive immigration reform — assuming it would win over some Hispanics and push down working-class-white turnout — is remarkably weak.
Arguments from electoral necessity explain much of the difference in Republican enthusiasm between the 2007 amnesty push and now, especially the 2013 measure’s strong support among the Republican political class. Perhaps they deserve more examination than they’ve gotten.
— Patrick Brennan is a William F. Buckley Fellow at the National Review Institute.