Amnesty? Not So Fast
Republicans must avoid another self-inflicted demographic wound.


John O’Sullivan

A few issues later, in June 1997, Peter Brimelow and Edwin S. Rubenstein wrote an NR article entitled “Electing a New People,” which we put on the cover under the prescient words: “The Emerging Democratic Majority.” Taking the 1988 election as its starting point when the Republican share of the popular vote was 53 percent — coincidentally, also the party’s average vote share in the six elections from 1968 to1988 — this article applied the same demographic evidence about the ethnic make-up of the future electorate to forecast how many votes the GOP was likely to win in all the elections between 2000 and 2052. They concluded that the GOP would attain minority status in 2008 and slip inexorably down thereafter to reach 45.2 percent in 2052.

Brimelow and Rubenstein got the changeover date right, but their assumptions of demographic change driven by immigration were, if anything, too cautious. The GOP’s share of the 2012 national vote — which, astoundingly, is still being counted — looks to end up a full percentage point below their 49.5 estimate, maybe even closer to two points.


Five years later John B. Judis and Ruy Teixeria published their well-known book, The Emerging Democratic Majority, in which they argued an essentially similar demographic case in great detail (adding single women and academics to Latino and Asian immigrants as drivers of politically crucial demographic change). They too concluded that 2008 would be the year the Democratic majority finally emerged. And so, though serious qualifications apply, it seems to have proved. 

Demographic change driven by immigration throughout this period was not, however, a natural event like an avalanche or an earthquake. It was the outcome of official U.S. policy that set an average annual inflow of one million legal immigrants, extended an amnesty to several million illegal immigrants, kept the border largely porous, enabled the judicial and administrative dilution of deportation policy, and allowed another 12 million illegal immigrants to enter America in a relatively short time. These outcomes were not inevitable. A different policy of reducing the numbers of legal immigrants, changing the criteria from extended family-reunification to greater emphasis on needed skills, and denying employment to illegal immigrants through employer sanctions was easily available. Indeed, a broad program of reform on these lines — see its proposals here — was proposed in 1997 by a congressionally mandated bipartisan commission under the distinguished Texas congresswoman, Barbara Jordan, and initially accepted by a nervous Clinton administration.

If implemented, this reform program would have ensured slower demographic change, a more assimilable inflow of immigrants both economically and culturally, fewer and less onerous social problems and fiscal burdens, and an electorate that had been less skewed against the GOP by public policy. We would probably be discussing a narrow Republican victory today if that had happened. But such policies were in fact defeated by a bipartisan coalition of big business, labor unions, churches, Democrats, Republican donors, the Wall Street Journal editorial page, Republican consultants, several conservative organizations, and the leadership of the Republican party through several incarnations.

The role of Republicans and conservatives in this self-inflicted but perhaps fatal wound was crucial. Democrats plainly wanted to continue the policy of almost-open borders. But they knew it was deeply unpopular with their own base in both the white and black working class. So they were always insistent on having strong GOP support for any bill that would legalize it retrospectively and confirm its continuance practically (as the “comprehensive immigration reform” bills of recent years have all done). That was essential to give them “cover” against an electoral backlash from Democrat voters (who, in establishment media lingo, promptly became part of “the Republican base”).

Democrats were therefore delighted with President George W. Bush, who went further than supporting amnesty and almost-open borders. He took the lead in advocating them — indeed, as Mark Krikorian has documented on the Corner, President Bush and his allies went still further, employing hate speech against those who doubted the wisdom of amnesty, dubbing them “bigots” (inevitably) and much else.