Doing a cunning job with immigration.


John O’Sullivan

From: Nick Machiavelli, Senior Partner, Machiavelli, O’Blarney, Iago, Alcibiades, and Morris, Political Consultants.
To: Karl Rove, The Smoke-Filled Room, Lower Basement, The White House, Washington, DC. 

Dear Karl,

Relax. Rest. Reassure yourself. There really was no reason to send around that Top Secret memo to your two hundred closest friends (and relatives) explaining that you hadn’t been demoted. We guessed you had to set up a fall guy to take the blame just in case the November elections go badly. That’s how these things are handled. You go behind the curtain for a while. Point taken.

All the same, Karl, I’m not sure that this Josh Bolten looks like a natural fall guy. He seems to be actually running the White House instead of being chief of staff in name only. And those efficient office manager types don’t always do the decent thing and take the blame when the roof falls in. They can be nasty and keep records for a rainy day.

Take my advice and arrange for his laptop to have an accident.

My executive assistant, Lilith, is worried too. She said to me only yesterday in the sauna: “If Josh Bolten was such a smart idea of Karl’s, why are they now bringing in this second fall guy from Goldman Sachs to run the Treasury?”

And to be candid, Karl, this Hank Paulson doesn’t look like a natural fall guy either–in fact, from his photographs he looks like he eats nails for breakfast and political consultants for lunch. His favorite animal is snakes! He was an assistant to John Erlichman in the Nixon White House–that’s like a doctorate in bureaucratic backstabbing.  

I don’t like the idea of more than one fall guy in any event. I mean: how bad must things look if you are lining up a whole platoon of blame-takers?

Still, let’s not be gloomy. This memo was originally meant to open with a compliment.

My congratulations on how you are handling the immigration-reform gambit. If I had not seen it myself, I would never have believed that you could so quickly dig yourself out of the hole into which you had dug yourself. It has been a pleasure to watch a maestro at work. 

Only two weeks ago it looked as if the Republicans in the House of Representatives were moving to reject the Senate “open borders” bill cobbled together by Junior, Ted Kennedy, John McCain, the Senate Democrats, and the immigration lawyers. Over Memorial Day weekend they had to listen to their constituents denouncing both the bill and the Bush-Democrat coalition behind it at every barbecue and high school graduation. They came back absolutely determined to vote it down.

All seemed bleak. It looked as if America would not get the 66 million new low-paid immigrants the GOP’s corporate donors need in the next 20 years. And then you came up with the old “honest broker” temptation or, as you and I call it: Divide, Destroy and Discredit.

Rep. Mike Pence was just perfect: a solid heartland Republican, a decent Midwesterner from Indiana, chairman of the Republican Study Committee, and a leading conservative congressional critic of Junior’s out-of-control spending. You can’t buy those kinds of credentials. But why bother to buy them when they volunteer?

Of course, I know that you had nothing to do with Pence’s intervention. How did you do it?

Whatever. He stepped forward with a “compromise” proposal designed to unite the House and Senate Republicans–right tone of party amity. He unveiled his plan at the Heritage Foundation–a mark of conservative respectability. He promised specifically that his plan would not include an amnesty–nice reassuring touch. And as soon as he spoke, you had a sheaf of op-eds and editorials ready to roll praising his statesmanlike leadership on a difficult issue.

With that one proposal Pence divided the House Republicans, revived the Senate bill’s stalled momentum, and (a bonus this) discredited himself as a future leader of the budget hawks with those Republicans opposed to illegal immigration and those who understand the vast fiscal costs of the Senate bill.

And while Pence’s intervention is working its quiet destruction in the House, you are distracting the media and the voters with the constitutional amendment to halt gay marriage. Just a footnote, Karl, but this is the last time you can haul out the gay marriage thing. Those Christian Rightists are notoriously paranoid: any more defeats on a measure supported by two-thirds of the American people and they’ll probably think the campaign for it is being secretly run by gay activists.

Still, on the whole, a magnificent performance. My one doubt: Was it really wise to let Pence write the proposal himself?

You know how it is with these apprentice statesmen: their noble vision goes to their head. They begin small by wanting the Washington Post to say they’ve grown in office. They end up trying to re-design the universe. Look at the Great Portmanteau Immigration Reform Bill Pence is offering. It has a hundred practical problems but two stand out:

First, it denounces the idea of an amnesty for illegals but it’s an amnesty bill itself. The twelve million illegals already here get their jobs held for them while they leave the U.S. and return one week later (still ahead of all those legal applicants lining up outside). Pence may have got this idea from the way congressmen blend easily into lobbyists on retirement. Call it the “Revolving Door Amnesty.”

Second, the Pence proposal argues that the twelve million illegals and any other guest workers could be processed (i.e., sent home, linked with potential employers, re-admitted to the U.S., their credentials checked, and put back to work) speedily if this were done by efficient private sector employment agencies rather than by the Feds. But these agencies don’t exist. And if they did, they would be reliant for their guest-worker data on the inefficient federal government. Back to square zero–administrative chaos at one remove.

In short the Pence bill is too much like the Bush-Democrat Senate bill. It is an amnesty and an administrative nightmare. And it is not much improved by the Free Enterprise Seal of Approval stamped on its cover. If either bill becomes law, the next few years leading to the 2008 election will see chaos and conflict as millions of legal and illegal immigrants crowd low-paid U.S. workers out of jobs and as their wives and children crowd schools, hospitals, and welfare agencies.

Not a good advertisement for Jeb.

Maybe you should have considered losing on immigration rather than on gay marriage. Then you could have carried on as before–having tough laws on the books without enforcing them. Hey, it’s worked for 20 years. Why change a winning hand?

Your devoted friend,


P.S. My condolences, by the way, on the Republican win in San Diego. I was pretty sure you had managed to pull off a useful defeat when the Democrat started to run ads telling conservative voters to switch to the Minuteman candidate. Quite frankly: Brilliant. If Bilbray the Republican had lost by even one vote, you would have had the perfect stick to beat the House Republicans with–“See, tough tactics on immigration don’t work. You need the Pence compromise.” But since Bilbray made up a 30 percent deficit and won by attacking illegal immigration and the Senate immigration bill supported by the president while the Democrat was for the Bush-Democrat position, you’re going to have a harder time convincing House Republicans that they need any sort of “compromise.” They can see Bilbray won against the odds by adopting the position that you, the president, the media, and Pence say is electoral poison. So you’ll need to be even more subtle and indirect in your tactics than in San Diego. I saw you had managed to confuse Adam Nagourney totally in today’s New York Times on this.  Not a bad start. Unfortunately, he was immediately frisked inside out by Mickey Kaus–and very effectively too. Also, couldn’t you get a Republican to make some of Nagourney’s points? No, I suppose not.

—John O’Sullivan is a senior fellow at the Hudson Institute in Washington and editor-at-large of National Review. He is currently writing a book on Reagan, Thatcher and Pope John Paul II. A version of this first appeared in the Chicago Sun-Times and is reprinted with permission.