From the desk of Nick Machiavelli, Senior Partner, Machiavelli, O’Blarney, Iago, Alcibiades, and Morris, Political Consultants
To: Karl Rove, The Smoke-Filled Room, Air Force One, Somewhere in North America
My Dear Karl,
When Lilith picked up your call on the answering service, I told her firmly that we must not say “I told you so.” And we won’t, really. But since you ask, I don’t think this thing is going to work.
Take a look, first, at the coalition you have assembled behind what you call “comprehensive immigration reform.” It’s a coalition of opposites — corporate America and Big Labor, left-wing ethnic lobbies like La Raza and the Republican National Committee, the Catholic bishops and left-wing Democrats, the New York Times
and the Wall Street Journal
To use your native language, though, it’s all hat and no cattle. In theory all these groups should add up to three quarters or more of the American people. But you can’t get even a bare majority in any poll for the bill that’s now before the Senate — however deceptively you word the questions.
Worse, the more information the pollsters give those questioned — about current levels of immigration, alternative policies, fiscal costs — the more strongly they oppose the legislation. So you need to get hurry this bill through the entire legislative process before Americans learn what’s in it.
Sure, I know you hope to get it through the Senate before Memorial Day weekend, when the senators will meet their constituents and feel some very intense heat. And that would be something — but not much. It would still have to get through the House after Memorial Day.
And after only two days your coalition of opposites is already beginning to break up. The Democrats don’t like the switch from an immigration policy based on reuniting families (well, families that vote Democrat anyway) to one of importing the skills America needs.
And Big Business is unhappy at being asked to check whether new employees are in the U.S. legally.
You and I know their fears are groundless. The restrictions are only — what’s the phrase? — “boob-bait for Bubba.” Teddy Kennedy’s staff wrote the bill with loopholes specially designed to undercut the restrictions. Democrats can drive all the voting families — and corporate America all the low-skilled workers — they want through these loopholes in refrigerated trucks.
Alas, Karl, you can hardly say so publicly — or, in these days of unpatriotic leaks, even privately. So this round of immigration reform is in trouble as its supporters bail out.
Over the weekend the New York Times jumped off the bandwagon. Senate leader Harry Reid and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi have both threatened to amend the bill significantly. And Senator Jon Kyl — its indispensable Republican supporter — has threatened to walk away from the bill if amendments upset its careful balance. A perfect storm is building here.
My question is: why should you mind if it fails? Indeed, why were you so keen on it in the first place? Sure, you want to safeguard cheap labor for corporate donors to the GOP — but that’s not enough to explain this bill.
After all, the status quo gives cheap labor to corporate America. It will continue to do so as long as Junior Bush fails to safeguard the border and refuses to enforce employer sanctions. Though people didn’t like the status quo exactly, they weren’t as all-fired-up about it as they are about the “Not an Amnesty” bill. Junior could have continued it forever. So why this leap into damaging controversy?
Don’t tell me that the bill will win Hispanics over to the GOP? As we both know, Hispanics split roughly two-to-one for the Democrats in almost every election. Those Hispanics who lean Republican are generally hostile to illegal immigration. So the two main political effects of this national row over immigration are to dispirit the GOP’s non-Hispanic base while driving Hispanic Republicans into the arms of the Democrats by “racializing” the immigration issue — i.e., by making it a test of ethnic loyalty.
I’m forgetting the most important point — there’s a third effect, too. If this bill goes through, it will result in citizenship down the road for between 12 and 20 million Hispanics, mainly poor, mainly low-skilled, and so mainly Democratic voters. That represents a net gain of between four and seven million votes for the Democrats at the very least. That’s why the Democrats are supporting this bill.
Notice, however, that they are supporting it very quietly, leaving the heavy lifting to you and the Senate Republicans. They know the legislation alienates their non-Hispanic supporters as well, not least Black America, and they need cover.
Of course, what a fool I’ve been! That explains everything. Karl, you’re working for the Democrats. I am, as ever, in awe.
Your friend and pupil,
P.S. My usual fee — plus I won’t say anything. Think of it as your own personal amnesty.
— John O’Sullivan is the editor-at-large of National Review and author of The President, the Pope, and the Prime Minister. This first appeared in the Chicago Sun-Times and is reprinted with permission